Suppose that you must leave your home for some length of time, days or weeks perhaps, due to some disaster scenario. Of course, similar considerations will apply if you are merely traveling for business or pleasure. But we’ll assume you are bugging out. How can you access your data and various internet resources securely? You are away from your home wireless network and internet connection. If you can find an open network or a public WiFi hotspot, your use of the internet is much less secure. What are your options?
Public WiFi hotspots may include coffee shops, airports, schools, libraries, hotels and various businesses. You can search for WiFi spots here: WeFi.com Maps. If you are on the road because of a bug-out or a trip for any reason, you can usually find internet access through a WiFi hotspot. Your laptop can connect to the internet, through these free public wireless networks without a password. In addition, some businesses offer WiFi access for a small fee.
In any case, these WiFi hotspots are not secure. There is no encryption between your laptop or tablet or smartphone and their internet access point. Eavesdropping by some bad actor is relatively easy, as there are free downloadable software programs created for just that purpose. Someone with ill intent does not need to be a super-hacker to violate your privacy. And if there is a severe disaster, that causes many persons to bug-out, someone might have the bright idea to take advantage of the large number of persons whose internet use is now very insecure. You don’t want your banking username and password to be picked up by some idiot with a laptop and some limited knowledge of how WiFi works.
One simple and relatively inexpensive step you can take to secure your use of the internet at home and on the road is to obtain a VPN provider. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. A VPN provider uses software to encrypt all communication between your computer and their internet servers. Everything you access on the internet goes through that connection. Consequently, your use of WiFi anywhere is secure. Anyone eavesdropping on the WiFi network will not be able to access your use of the internet. Cost is currently about $40/year, for example at: Private Internet Access (prices subject to change, not guaranteed).
Another consideration is access to data. If you have a home computer with data on it that you may need on the road, you will want a secure way to access those files. The simplest approach is to use a cloud storage service like DropBox. The first 2 GB of space is free, as of this writing. You download and install their software, then drag and drop files into a special folder. The data is automatically uploaded to the Cloud (servers on the internet). Your laptop will automatically sync by downloading whatever you put in that dropbox folder on your home computer. For added security, you might want to encrypt files first with TrueCrypt, a free open source encryption program.
If you need more than 2 GB of Cloud storage, you might consider a service such as MediaFire. They offer 50 GB of free cloud storage, with some limitations. But for $18.00 (as of this writing), you can get a powerful set of features, including the ability to share files with others. You can also turn on SSL encryption so that your communication with their servers is relatively secure. SSL is not as secure as a VPN, but it will suffice for most purposes.
Starting tomorrow, reportedly, a new service is available from controversial internet mogul Kim Dotcom (that’s his name and his internet address). The new service is a reboot of the Mega file-sharing site that was shut down by court action some months ago. The Mega site claims: “The new Mega encrypts and decrypts your data transparently in your browser, on the fly. You hold the keys to what you store in the cloud, not us.” But we will have to wait and see if the site can live up to its self-description. If so, Mega might be a good option for storing and accessing your data, as well as for sharing files.
Finally, if you are concerned about the security of data on your laptop, you might want to use whole disc encryption. This encrypts the entire hard drive so that, in the event of theft, at least the thief does not have access to your files, your passwords, your company data, etc. TrueCrypt offers excellent whole-disc encryption for a number of different operating systems.
If/when you have to leave your home due to some type of disaster scenario, your use of computers and the internet becomes suddenly less secure. A few prudent and free or inexpensive measures, set up in advance, can boost the security of your data and internet access.