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Making WiFi Hotspots Safer for Advisors on the Road

April 15, 2013

As public WiFi hotspots proliferate, it’s increasingly easy to tap into a free online connection while on the road. The option can boost professionals’ productivity and save on wireless data usage. But many of these connections aren’t secure enough for advisors to use when dealing with sensitive client data, writes Bill Winterberg, a technology and operations consultant, in Morningstar Advisor. Hackers often lurk at public WiFi spots, which generally lack data protection.

Hackers can spy in several ways. For example, they can use the free Firefox plug-in Firesheep, which lets users grab unencrypted information, including digital cookies, floating over public WiFi networks, then access websites using the victim’s information. And some WiFi hotspots aren’t what they appear to be. A hacker can label a free network so that it sounds like it’s legitimately connected with a coffee bar or a hotel.

Winterberg recommends an easy fix: Subscribe to a virtual private network service (VPN), which encrypts the data passing between your device and the Internet no matter where you are. Individual practitioners who lack access to a company VPN can choose from dozens of personal VPN services, from providers including Norton and WiTopia, at prices that range from $2.99 a day to $49.99 a year. Winterberg outlines how to evaluate such services, which he calls a low-cost way to protect client data.

By Elizabeth Jensen
  • To read the Morningstar Advisor article cited in this story, click here.