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Unethical for Lawyers to Check Email at Coffee Shop?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Last updated on

Everyone's done it -- logged on to an email account or the cloud when at a coffee shop, airport or other public place. It's the beauty of living in a wireless era.

But the fact is that beauty may not be so absolute. When you log on in a crowded space, you're not only inviting the prying ears and eyes of nosy neighbors. You may also be inviting hackers to dig through your computer and any confidential data you've saved.

Which brings us to an important question -- is logging on to an unsecured public network a breach of your ethical responsibilities?

It's a good question, but it's currently without a good answer. It's likely most of you try to keep your voices down and screens shielded when viewing confidential emails and documents in public spaces. It's an easy way to protect client privacy.

As for protecting against hacks on open networks, chances are you don't even know where to start. That's if you've thought about it at all. And you should. Even taking minor steps to preserve computer security can ward off ethics an ethics investigation.

Luckily, improving your computer security is not that hard. Here are a few things you can do to start:

  1. Use a secure HTTPS protocol when on webmail or other sites.
  2. Use a secure, 12-character alphanumeric password to log on to your computer.
  3. Turn on your firewall and turn off file-sharing when in public.
  4. Use a website or program to scan WiFi networks for security vulnerabilities. Security expert Rom Mighell suggests Shields Up.
  5. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). It routes activity through a separate, private network even when you're on a public one.

And last but not least, don't think a password-protected network or a hotspot from a major wireless carrier is secure. They're often not.

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