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Do good passwords make it safer to do banking on an open connection?

If you have set up a strong password on your laptop with DSL, is it safe to conduct financial, banking and other business over the Internet on an open connection in hotels, cafes, camp sites, etc?

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The strength of your password actually has little to do with the security of your computer on a home DSL network. It's far more important to follow some simple tips:

  • Ensure that all of the connections you make to banks, financial institutions and other sensitive locations are encrypted. The easiest way to do this is to verify that the Web address begins with "https." This secure protocol prevents others on the same wireless network from viewing your communications.
  • Enable your firewall so that it blocks all inbound connections. If you're using the Windows Firewall, you'll want to check the "Don't Allow Exceptions" box. This setting prevents anyone on the network from connecting directly to your computer.
  • Verify that you have current antivirus and antispyware software installed on your computer.

With all of these countermeasures in place, your password strength only protects you against a casual thief pecking away at your keyboard when you're not watching. If you're worried about someone sneaking away with your computer (and your data!), you should consider using a disk-encryption product. Microsoft includes an encryption feature called BitLocker in its Windows Vista OS.

More information:

  • See how Windows BitLocker enables disk encryption for better data protection.
  • A reader recently asked Mike Chapple, "What are the best ways to hide system information from network scanning software?" (Login required)
  • This was first published in December 2008

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