Technology is feeding the expanding appetite for wireless products and services. The weight of a modem, an Ethernet cable, and the wired phone connection are all joining the endangered species list. CPAs need to participate and share the shrinking go-go-go world with useable and useful devices in tow.
Real hackers are not looking for you. They do not know you. They ARE looking for anything they can touch. Sometime it may be you - but it is not personal, is just part of the hacker business model. They will use hacker tools like Kismet and Aircrack to figure out your SSID before they crack your network. And once they crack your network, they will continue until they find something like exploring inside a cave. Now that we have your attention, I have two simple questions:
1. Do your firm, clients, and associates expect you to know how to use wireless?
2. Are you willing to learn more about wireless?
For #1, the universal answer is "yes." CPAs are surrounded with the continuous need of the immediate. Examples are: send and receive information; talk with clients, non-clients, staff, friends, family; retrieve data for business and personal question; process data for business and personal requirements; be entertained and watch a movie, play a game, be social.
For #2, that answer is a little more personal for you. My strong recommendation is yes. In this world, there are people who do not watch television, do not have a driver's license or do not eat meat. These people are OK and have discovered how to do without what so many others find essential. The same is true for wireless. This technology can be easily effective and produce valuable return on investment.
So, with these two questions answered, here are some ideas for making better use of the wireless world that surrounds all of us today. For this review, I will group items by the very useful acronym of SWOT.
Your strengths are built upon what you do. If creating your next great book, wireless access requires one level of strengths. Completing a client's tax return has to be accomplished under a more secure processing environment. So figure what could be done in a wireless location and make sure that what security you need is place to deliver strength when needed. This includes, but is not limited to: email access, business records access, location based services, or one to one contact conversations.
Protect your device and content
Storing data on laptops and smartphones will expose that data to someone who wants if for fun or profit or both. Therefore, it is essential to make use of security features for your equipment and operating systems. Implement internet access security such as a firewall. Firewalls screen all incoming and outgoing access requests whether they are initiated by you or some outside service. A growing number of applications use "push" technology that sends messages directly to your device, like a text message. This date will be accepted by your device. Firewalls can assist with blocking messages and files that are dangerous.
When out among wireless users, it is most likely that your wireless connection will be on a public network such as Starbucks, Panera Bread, a corporate office facility or a hotel. File and folder sharing is useful in the office or at home. On a public network, there are risks that others will be able to view your data. Turn it sharing off by clicking on the Network icon in the Taskbar and select ‘Open Network and Sharing Center.' Select the Change advanced sharing settings hyperlink and turn off file and printer sharing along with public folder sharing. Click save before you exit screen.
Sensitive data needs more protection. Make it stronger by encrypting those MS Office and other files that need more protection than the email to old college roommate. In this way, if the files are lost they will not be viewable.
Public Wi-Fi connections
When you first connect to the Public Hotspot, Windows will ask you to select a location for the Network. For example, here we want to connect to the local coffee shop Wi-Fi. Know that the public the site, the more risk. Airports are more risky that Starbucks, Libraries are safer than a cruise ship. When public, consider adding the ‘s' to your HTTP based web search. If you use regular HTTP protocol when connected to a public network, all of content can be easily found by crook with a packet sniffer. Add security by using HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) or SSL wherever you can.
If the public connection is run by a store, engage the owner/manager to make sure they have set proper security procedures. When you have any doubts about the security of the connection, go somewhere else. There are always risks, however do not invite more than you can handles.
Practice safe wireless
While you will be careful with keeping your anti-virus and firewall software current, do not overlook your browser. The browser can be Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari or some combination. Frequently review any browser add-ons from third-party developers, such as special dictionaries, utilities and a whole lot more. Customization may be good for the geek; it could be hazardous for the less than geek.
Use Good Passwords
It may be painful and aggravating but accept the fact that passwords need to be securely stored. Using personal information, addresses, telephone numbers are very easy to crack. Common sense does apply. When accessing news sites, strong passwords may not be required. On the other hand, any site where you can spend money by purchasing products or services requires strong passwords. A few basic tips that you already know but reminders are always good:
• Never use personal information - yours or anyone else's
• Do not use real words that can be located in a dictionary
• Use special characters such as '&' or '%'
• Use a passphrase
• Use a password management tool
• Change passwords at least every 90 days
Most laptops have an external on/off switch for its internal wireless program. When in public and do not require wireless access, turn this switch to the off position.
Just like cellular telephone technology has untethered teenagers by the millions, wireless provides an set of opportunities for the CPA professional.
Wire free applications are now expected by partners, staff and clients. Forget the investment in Cat5 cable in your office or home. People expect to be able to pick themselves up and work where they want, when they want.
Smartphones have Apps
There are more than a few hundred thousand Apps and that number is growing. Apps on phones, on tablet computers, and moving to internet connected television. There are lots of good articles in The Progressive Accountant about Apps you should consider. (I wrote a few)
The next opportunity is to design and implement your own Apps. This could be for fun, for the office staff or for use by customers. Programs like AppMaker, Caspio, Yapper and others give anyone the opportunity. Check out Apps like "HR Thoughts" was built by AppMaker. "Interview" was written by netmodular, http://oeinc.com/.
There are lots of ways that Apps can support information access, formulas, and specific applications. This capacity covers tax, audit, financial, and systems resources. Reviewing tax returns and financial reports on a wireless while sitting on the beach in Hawaii is, of course a reality today. What this means for your practice has to move from the dream world of surfing to providing fee based professional services.
You go out in the rain and the snow and the heat. When you do, wearing appropriate gear and protecting your car, house, and belongings are all smart things to do. Handle wireless threats the same way by being prepared.
5,000 mile checkup
Get that oil change and tire rotation especially for your mobile devices. Clean the registry, do the occasional defrag, get rid of large video files that are no longer in use, dust off the keyboard and screen. Make it a habit to get the latest security updates and patches for your operating system, browser, firewall, and antivirus programs.
Leave your backups at home
Data backups can be anywhere that your computer is not. The key is to understand how you can use wireless access points to save data or lose data. In your office or home, wireless connectivity allows you to back up data in background from any location. Remember if you choose to do backups through a public wireless, you are exposing your data to the risk of being snatched out of thin air (probably just a copy of it)
The sites you visit and what you type can be watched by someone nearby. This is called "shoulder surfing." It is not practical, nor likely that you will have a hood or blanket to cover the space between you and your device. The key is being aware of how open your screen is for other people viewing.
Public locations and back seats of cars are the most frequent places where computers and devices are stolen. Know your surroundings and vulnerabilities. Taking unnecessary risks like leaving the device on a table without you in sight can be a very big flashing sign to crooks and folks who just want to have fun. This takes mental practice on your part. Because no one is perfect, you can improve chances of recovery by putting your name and cell phone # on everything from wires to laptops.
Select the secure the connection
When you see the list of available wireless connections, be careful and select connections that are secure. Know that lots of connections will charge a fee based on you submitting a credit card that will be dinged at regular time intervals. This is a risk that you have to manage. With the reach of wireless networks, you can be in a safe and secure resort hotel and be tempted to connect to the free wireless network. This ‘free' may turn out to be a whole lot worse than paying the hotel.
Wire free is in our future for personal or business. The reach of wireless will extend way beyond what we can do today. The Mars Rover craft were launched in 2003. At a distance from earth as wide as 250 million miles, this is a lot farther than any distance we need to bridge. Wireless capabilities will cover your world with a lot more than just more television programming. Remember how important having a good quality and supportive net will make your computing more effective and a whole lot safer.