Several weeks ago, we told you that the Verona Pool will have wireless Internet access this summer. While keeping your laptop safe from splashing is fairly straightforward–don’t sit at the table closest to the slides–keeping it safe from all the other things that can happen on the Internet isn’t. We talked to Henry Bardsley, a Verona resident who runs the computer set-up and service business West Essex Computer Hospital, to get some tips on safe surfing.
Verona officials are wisely setting up the pool’s wireless network to require a key code on log-in, just the way you’d log in to a hotel network when you’re traveling on business. That will restrict the network’s use to only pool members, and not people who might casually pull into the parking lot to jump the connection. According to Town Council member Frank Sapienza, the key code will be posted on a bulletin board near the pool office, right near the water temperature of the day.
The rest is up to you, and it begins with a bit of common sense. Don’t bring your best laptop to the pool and definitely don’t bring the one loaded with all your sensitive work or personal documents. Don’t plan on doing your banking, stock trading, or eBay shopping while poolside: Though locked down, the pool’s network is still public. Bardsley notes that a determined hacker armed with a bit of spyware can easily scoop up all of your personal information. And we’ll add this for James Bratek and the legions of Apple fans in and around Verona: If you have a choice between a Mac or a PC, bring the Mac. Virus writers still dedicate the bulk of their efforts to PCs.
Make sure that the computer you bring is equipped with the latest in malware, spyware and antivirus programs and that they are all up to date. This is particularly important if you’re getting antivirus protection through your FIOS or Comcast connection at home. Bardsley likes the free programs from AVG, Avira, and Avast! in the antivirus category and Spybot and Ad-Aware for spyware protection, and Malwarebytes to fight malware. You only need one in each category. If you can’t bring a computer without sensitive data, protect it with an encryption program like TrueCrypt.
Set up a Guest account on your computer and use it, not the main Admin password, to log in when you are at the pool. If you are hacked at the pool, the hacker will only be able to get the files that the Guest account has access to. Since you are not behind the firewall of your home network, turn on the firewall on the laptop you bring and, from the Control Panel, disable file-sharing. “Make sure you’re connecting to the correct Wi-Fi network,” adds Bardsley. “To the pool and not the guy who lives next to the pool.” And when you’re not on the Internet, turn the network off (look for the blue radio antenna button on your laptop). That will lock down your computer and preserve its battery.
Bardsley, who founded his business after 10 years in the corporate IT world, has two other pieces of sound advice, whether you’re at the pool or traveling on business: Keep a record of your model and serial number at home, and back up your data regularly.
“Designate one laptop as the one that goes to the pool,” says Bardsley. “Put no data on it. Then what difference does it make if somebody hacks it?”