Technology Advisor Blog

What is my Wireless Security Key?

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 1/2/13 10:27 AM

Did Santa bring you a new Kindle Fire, iPad Mini, or Microsoft Surface for Christmas?  If so, probably one of the first things you wanted to do was connect to your home wireless network.  To connect, you'll be asked for a "key", which is a code that lets you in (and keeps others out).  The common dilemma is that users have set up a wireless network a LONG time ago, recorded the key, and stored it in a "safe place", only to be stumped when you look for it again.  The problem is that after you program the key into your laptop or other portable devices, your system "remembers" it, so you end up forgetting. 

Wireless Network IconDon't worry!  They key is easy to retrieve.  If you have a laptop connected to your wireless network, select the wireless icon in the lower right hand portion of the screen.  "Left click" on your mouse to view the wireless networks.  (Right-clicking allows you to "troubleshoot problems" and "Open Network and Sharing Center").  

Wireless Network PropertiesAfter you select the wireless networks icon, you'll see a list of all the wireless networks nearby, including the one you are connected to (in this case, the list is blanked out for privacy and only the first one is showing.)  "Right Click" on your network and select "Properties" to view the properties of your network, including the wireless key.

Wireless Key Show CharactersIn the "Properties" window, under the "Security" tab, you'll see the "Network Security Key" listed, with characters hidden.  To see the actual key, check the box to "show characters", and you'll have your key!

So if the encryption key that you wrote down two years ago is in a "safe place" somewhere, rest-assured you'll also find it stored electronically here.  No need to rummage through all your files!

Tags: Security, Encryption, Wireless Network, Key

Stay Safe on a Public Wi-Fi Network

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 6/10/11 11:16 AM

Wireless Access in Coffee Shop 200Free public Wi-Fi networks are popping up everywhere - at the airport, Starbucks, your local music school...  These networks are a big convenience, but you should be aware of your security settings so you don't put your computer and data at risk.  When you connect to a network, there may be a firewall protecting you from the outside world and everyone else on the Internet, but when you connect to a local network, you're basically putting your trust in that network and everyone else on it - not a good idea in public!  In addition to file sharing, many of these wireless hot spots are unencrypted to make it easy for people to connect, but this could leave you vulnerable to malicious users in the coffee shop who could monitor your keystrokes!

Windows 7 has a great feature that lets you select the type of network you're on (Home, Work, Public), and will impose the proper security settings for you.  When first connect to a network, your system will ask you what type of network it is.  If you're in a place where you don't recognize the other computers, you should specify "Public Network" for your network location.  This will automatically set the appropriate security settings.

To see what your current settings are and to change them, go to Control Panel, Network & Sharing Center.  For a Public Network, the icon is a Park Bench.  To see the individual settings, click on "Change Advanced Sharing Settings".

1)  Turn off Network Discovery - When Network Discovery is ON, your computer can see other computers and devices on the network and they can see you. 

2) Turn off File and Printer Sharing - When File and Printer Sharing is ON, files and printers you have shared on this computer can be access by other people on the network. 

3) Turn off Public Folder Sharing - When public Folder Sharing is ON, people on the network can access Public Folders.

4) Turn on Password Protected Sharing - if you are going to share files and folders, make sure Password Protected Sharing is ON so that only users with a user name and password for your system could access the files.

5) Additionally, Turn ON Windows Firewall.  Go to Control Panel, Windows Firewall and check that its ON.  The firewall helps prevent other systems on the network (all the people you don't know in the coffee shop) from potentially spreading malicious software or accessing your system.

When accessing web sites, look for SSL encryption to make sure your transmissions are protected.  Look for "HTTPS" in the web address. 

Unless you completely trust the owner of the network, and trust that they have secured their network equipment, keep in mind that entering personal information like banking accounts and credit card information can be compromised.  WEP and WPA encryption can be hacked, so you're not completely safe.

Finally, if you don't need to use the Internet the whole time your their, just shut off your laptop wireless.  Your system may have a physical switch, or you can simply hit the "Windows Key" + "X" to get a bunch of on/off switches.

Security is never 100%, but remembering to take proper precautions will greatly reduce your risk.  Consider what information is most important to you, and safeguard it in public.  I just asked my colleague if he would purchase something on-line with a credit card while on a Starbucks Wi-Fi, and his answer was "No Way!".  Take basic, proper precautions, and then use your judgment.

Tags: Security, Encryption, Wi-Fi, Wireless

eMail Security - Sending Encrypted eMail

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 5/27/11 11:15 AM

eMail EncryptionAlthough email typically has a layer of security protection in the form of a password, users need to be aware that emails sent "in the clear" (not encrypted), CAN be intercepted and read by other parties using available tools.

To address this threat, the new MA Data Protection Law which went into effect March, 1, 2010 requires "Encryption of all transmitted records and files containing personal information that will travel across public networks".

There are many solutions available, but the one we typically recommend to clients is Voltage SecureMail. This is an easy solution because the email recipient doesn't need to purchase or install any software on their end. 

Although it's a bit of a pain to go through the extra step of encryption, this is a necessary precaution when sending any protected or sensitive information.  You can send eMails directly from Microsoft Outlook, or log into a web interface.  We typically advise clients to develop a process where they send a preliminary email to the recipient with some simple instructions to let them know a secure email will follow.  This helps non-tech-savvy users know what to do.

To see how it works, view the Voltage SecureMail demo.

If you'd like to give it a try, sign up for a free trial.

To learn more about the new MA Data Protection Law - 201 CMR 17.00: STANDARDS FOR THE PROTECTION OF PERSONAL INFORMATION OF RESIDENTS OF THE COMMONWEALTH - read full regulation from the web site.

Tags: email security, Encryption

Laptop Encryption - Part 2 - Know the Difference Between "Sleep" and "Hibernation"

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 1/11/11 9:28 AM

Good news, you've protected your laptop (and your business and your customers) by encrypting it.  Now, now an encryption key will be needed to access confidential or protected information.

One very important thing to remember is that when you open your encrypted volume with the key, it stays open if your computer goes to sleep.  This is a time to understand the  between "sleep" and "hibernation".  These are similar, but different power settings on your system.  If you've relied on "sleep" before when you transport your laptop, this will NOT protect your system because the encryption key won't be needed to resume work.  "Hibernation" or a full shut down is required.  Test this for yourself to ensure that your information is truly protected!

Tags: laptop, Encryption

The Billion Dollar Lost-Laptop Study - Protect your Small Business!

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 1/11/11 9:27 AM

The "Billion Dollar Lost-Laptop Study" conducted by Intel and the Ponemon institute, reports that more than 300 businesses lost more than 86,000 businesses last year worth a staggering $2.1B.

While 46 percent of the lost laptops contained confidential information, only 30% of those systems were encrypted.

With the new MA Data Protection Law which went into effect March 1, 2010, any personal information stored on a laptop requires encryption. If you're not already compliant with the new law, make it a New Years resolution to get your company laptops encrypted. 

A recent article in Inc Magazine covers "What to do when you lose your computer" - must-reading for you and your employees.  Proactively encrypting your systems is the BEST protection against loss or theft, and keep in mind that if you carry protected personal information on any MA resident, you would be breaking the law without encryption.

Tags: computer security, Encryption, laptop loss

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