By George Otte
Laptop computers appreciate the mobility and flexibility they offer. As a result, most use their machines outside the home at times.
They might bring them to the office or even use them as their primary work devices. They might take them to a coffee shop or library for a change of pace while working. They might travel with them, using them in airports, hotels, and other unfamiliar settings.
Laptops’ portability is a source of great convenience. Unfortunately, it’s also an unseen source of risk for their owners. It’s important to take some essential steps to protect your machine and your personal information when using your laptop outside of the home. These seven are easy for all to take and require no special skills or training.
1. Never Reuse Passwords and Use a Password Manager to Keep Your Credentials in Order
It sounds inconvenient to use unique passwords for every account you own — a number that is surely in the dozens, if not hundreds. However, this is the easiest way to protect your data from theft.
“When you use the same password for multiple accounts, the compromise of any of those accounts is effectively the compromise of all of those accounts.” — George Otte
By contrast, when you use a different password every time, you contain the risk. If you are concerned about remembering dozens or hundreds of passwords, use a secure password manager to organize and retrieve them.
2. Use Antivirus Software and Make Sure It’s Activated at All Times
Use a well-reviewed antivirus software suite and make sure it’s activated at all times, especially when browsing the Internet on networks outside the home. You are much more likely to encounter malware on networks you don’t control, as we’ll see.
3. Make Sure Your Firewall Is Operational
If you have a Windows laptop, make sure its firewall is operational. This should be the case if you haven’t altered the firewall since purchasing and setting up the device. Your firewall is a crucial line of defense against malware and data theft, so it’s important not to tamper with it.
4. Download and Install Software Updates As Soon As They Become Available
It’s especially important to keep your computer’s operating system and Internet browser up to date. You should receive periodic reminders to update these critical pieces of infrastructure, and newer Windows computers should prompt you to update at shutdown or restart, making it difficult to put this off for too long. Some software may require you to manually search for updates or download the latest version every so often.
5. Use a Virtual Private Network When Browsing the Internet Outside Your Home
As long as your router has not been compromised, you can be reasonably certain that your home network is secure. This is not the case with networks you don’t control, and especially not public WiFi networks in places like restaurants, airport terminals, or hotel lobbies. When connecting to such networks, always use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt the data your machine sends.
6. Don’t Connect to Unsecured Public WiFi Networks
Public WiFi networks present special security risks for laptop users. Avoid connecting to them, even with a VPN. Wait until you have access to a secure network, such in a private hotel room or apartment.
7. Don’t Allow Your Laptop to Connect to Other Machines on a Network You Don’t Control
When browsing the Internet outside the home, don’t allow your laptop to be discoverable by or connect to other machines on the same network. Doing so could increase your risk of data theft and expose your machine to malware or spyware. The only exception to this rule concerns secure work networks in your primary place of business (for example, your employer’s home office).
George Otte is a Miami-based entrepreneur and executive with more than 15 years of multifaceted business operations experience.