Tips to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi
In a recent survey, 75% of tablet owners and 57% of smartphone / mobile phone owners stated that they use public Wi-Fi hotspots. The number of free public Wi-Fi hotspots is growing, but not every hotspot can provide the protection of a private home network, data sent through public Wi-Fi can easily be intercepted, many mobile device and laptop users are risking the security of their personal information, digital identity and money. Furthermore, if their device or computer is not protected by an effective security and anti-malware product- the risks are even greater.
If you want to keep your information and files secure, read these essential tips for protecting yourself when you’re away from home.
- Turn Off Sharing
You may share your music library, printers or files, or even allow remote login from other computers on your Wi-Fi network in the privacy of your own home. Unless you disable these settings before connecting to a public Wi-Fi network, anyone else in the vicinity may be able to hack into your PC.
If you’re using a Windows PC, you’ll want to start by opening the advanced sharing settings of the Homegroup section of the Network and Internet settings in the Control Panel. From here, you’ll be able to toggle file and printer sharing as well as network discovery, which will make your computer visible to anyone connected to the same network. For Mac, just go to System Preferences, then Sharing, and make sure none of the options are checked.
- Practice Good Internet Hygiene
Perhaps the first and biggest piece of advice we can give you, beyond software, and beyond tools that promise to protect your privacy, is to practice good internet hygiene. Avoid working with—at least online—sensitive data when you’re using unsecured, public Wi-Fi. It may be a good time to check the news or read your favorite blogs, but it’s probably not the best time to do your online banking, if you catch my drift. Of course, if you have methods to secure yourself like the ones we mention below, you can rest a little easier in this regard, but remember, you should care about security on that coffee shop network. It’s unlikely that someone’s snooping on it, but it only takes once to lead to identity theft, or worse.
- Avoid using specific types of website
It’s a good idea to avoid logging into websites where there’s a chance that cybercriminals could capture your identity, passwords or personal information — such as social networking sites, online banking services or any websites that store your credit card information.
- Avoid Automatically Connecting to Wi-Fi Hotspots
Your smartphone or tablet may be set to automatically connect to any available Wi-Fi hotspot, a setting that can seriously endanger your privacy. Not only will this allow your device to connect to public networks without your express permission, you may also be automatically connecting to malicious networks set up specifically to steal your information.
Most modern smartphones have this option disabled by default, but this isn’t always the case, and it’s a setting you should always double-check. First, open the Wi-Fi section of your phone’s settings app. If you don’t see an option to disable auto-connecting, you’re already safe. Otherwise, turn this setting off.
- Consider using your mobile phone
If you need to access any websites that store or require the input of any sensitive information — including social networking, online shopping and online banking sites — it may be worthwhile accessing them via your mobile phone network, instead of the public Wi-Fi connection.
- Use HTTPS
Regular websites transfer content in plain text, making it an easy target for anyone who has hacked into your network connection. Many websites use HTTPS to encrypt the transfer data, but you shouldn’t rely on the website or Web service to keep you protected.
You can create this encrypted connection with the browser extension HTTPS Everywhere. With this plugin enabled, almost all website connections are secured with HTTPS, ensuring that any data transfer is safe from prying eyes.
- Protect Your Passwords
Using unique passwords for different accounts can help if one of your accounts is compromised. Keeping track of multiple secure passwords can be tricky, so using a password manager such as KeePass or LastPass can help keep you safe and secure.
Both KeePass and LastPass are free, but they store your information in different ways. KeePass keeps an encrypted database file on your computer, while LastPass stores your credentials in the cloud. There are pros and cons to each approach, but both services are completely secure.
- Run Anti-Virus Software
Always running up-to-date anti-virus software can help provide the first alert if your system has been compromised while connected to an unsecured network. An alert will be displayed if any known viruses are loaded onto your PC or if there’s any suspicious behavior, such as modifications to registry files.
While running anti-virus software might not catch all unauthorized activity, it’s a great way to protect against most attacks.
- Turn on Your Firewall
Most OS’s include a built-in firewall, which monitors incoming and outgoing connections. A firewall won’t provide complete protection, but it’s a setting that should always be enabled.
On a Windows notebook, locate your firewall settings in the Control Panel under System and Security. Click on Windows Firewall, then click Turn Windows Firewall On or Off. Enter your administrator password, then verify that the Windows Firewall is on.
These settings are in System Preferences, then Security & Privacy on a Mac. Navigate to the Firewall tab and click Turn On Firewall. If these settings are grayed out, click the padlock icon in the lower left, enter your password, then follow these steps again.