By Kim Christiansen
Don’t Be a Sucker was a WWII propaganda film shown to GIs to stir up anti-Nazi sentiment. While we might find the film a bit heavy-handed, the film title is still an attention grabber! You can read more about the film here.
However, I’m not talking about getting swindled at cards or voting for Nazis. In this case, I want you to not be a sucker when using the internet. Specifically I want you to make sure you use a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, when you access the internet through a WiFi system – other than your own personal one at home. And, if you’re a full-timer, it’s even more important that you secure your use of the internet because you probably take care of personal business on the internet as well.
By using a VPN, you scramble all of your internet use so no one hanging around one of these public WiFi spots can steal your information. This is a very real thing that happens every day in coffee shops, airports or anywhere people think that it’s OK to “hop onto the internet for just a minute or two.” It literally takes less than a second to hack your data, and if the hacker is smart, they are just spooling the info in the background while they watch a video or play a game in the foreground, leaving people around them none the wiser.
You also should protect yourself from snooping by internet companies and government agencies. Internet Service Providers (ISPs), cell phone companies and the government are watching what we do and either selling that information or using it in ways we may not want them to. Your business is your business. No one needs to know about your addiction to British baking shows or how many cat videos you watch. Keep this in mind: ANY WiFi network that you do not personally own should be considered unsafe. Cafes, restaurants, fast food joints, RV Parks, campgrounds, hotels, rest stops, etc., are popular places to hang out and steal information.
So what about your niece in Tallahassee? She’s letting you park your rig in her driveway for a few days while you visit and gives you her WiFi password. That’s safe, right? Well … maybe, maybe not.
To be fair, most folks don’t know if their computers, TVs, refrigerators, security cameras, voice assistants, radios, stereos and dog treat dispensers that they have connected to the internet are secure and not infected with a virus. The so-called “Internet of Things” has been a major focus of hackers because the security in those devices is generally poor. And every little gadget that you have connected to the internet IS a computer and it CAN be hacked. It could be tracking every keystroke on every device in a house and forwarding it to some dark internet server.
Do you want to trust your bank or investment brokerage information to a “maybe” it’s secure/safe? What about the email address, Instagram and Facebook info for your niece’s 13-year-old daughter? It’s not just your data that you have to protect. We’re all linked together in a literal web of internet services. Once something flies out onto the internet, right or wrong, there is no getting it back.
Is all this tin-hat paranoia? Not completely, and I am using a worst-case scenario to illustrate a point. However, based on evidence from the past few years and how hacking trends are accelerating, I want you to understand what’s at stake. “Better safe than sorry” really applies here.
So take these two easy steps:
1. Make sure your antivirus software is up to date and be sure to renew your annual subscription with the vendor for your computers and phones.
So, just to be clear: You do have an antivirus software program on your computer, right? And it IS current? And you PAY the hardworking people at the software company a small sum every year to help ensure you are protected? Good, I thought so.
2. Get a VPN to go along with your antivirus software to ensure that you’re not broadcasting sensitive information in the open.
VPN services are often offered by the antivirus vendor you use. You can also find them in Apple, Microsoft and Google app stores for both desktop and mobile, or through a general internet search. Just search for the letters VPN. You should expect to pay between $10 a year to $10 a month, depending on what kind of performance you want and how much control you want. Typically you will sign up for the service and then run through a simple setup and test. Once that happens you’re ready to use your VPN whenever you’re away from your home base and want to use WiFi.
Don’t be a sucker! Make sure that you take these easy steps to protect yourself, your family and your friends when you use the internet on the road.
Kim Christiansen supports WordPress sites like RVtravel.com
with security and performance optimizations through his company, Pixual.
While not an RVer, he loves cars and hitting the open road.