One of the first things people ask when visiting a new establishment is, “What’s the Wi-Fi password?”
Free Wi-Fi, especially in airports, cafes, libraries, and other public places can be lifesavers, especially when you're traveling and need to get a little work done, communicate with coworkers, or perhaps look up directions. But with free Wi-Fi - even with password protected connections - there is always a security risk since you’re sharing the network with several others at the same time..
The thing is, you don't know how the other people connected to the network, and more importantly, what they’re capable of doing on the share network. It’s possible that some of them could be hackers whose motive it is to connect to public Wi-Fi connections for the purpose of stealing sensitive data.
In 2016, 39 percent of Americans personally experienced cybercrime, and 31 percent of people were victims globally. In cases attributed to connecting to a public network, hackers have detailed how easy it is to break into a public Wi-Fi network.
Before you get scared and swear off public Wi-Fi forever, there are a few things you can do to keep your device secure while using public Wi-Fi.
Use the Right Networks
Not all public Wi-Fi networks are created equal. For instance, a password protected Wi-Fi network from a coffee shop will most likely not only provide faster internet but be more secure than the ‘Free Airport Wi-Fi’. There are also easy ways to identify which networks are secure and which ones are doubtful. Some Wi-Fi connections are purposely left unsecured to lure in users, so avoid ones that advertise or say ‘Free Wi-Fi here’ unless you know who it belongs to.
Turn Off Sharing
On your home network, sharing may be turned on so that family members can access and easily view files, photos, and video. But when you're out and using a public Wi-Fi network, it is best to keep that setting off as a precautionary measure so that other devices may not have access to your files (and to avoid receiving files from unknown sources).
Even MacBooks, which some people think are impenetrable by viruses, aren't exempt from cyber attacks. Reports say the new models are more vulnerable to malware attacks than before. If you’re using an Apple device, take the extra precautionary measure of turning off Airdrop while using Wi-Fi in a public place.
Have Security Programs in Place
Make sure that your computer has the basic security programs in place, such as a firewall, antivirus, and anti-malware program. Many operating systems come with a built-in firewall which may be powerful enough to ward off most attacks. An easy way to protect your device is to ensure that it is switched on. Also, while using public Wi-Fi, ensure that your security programs are running and up-to-date.
Consider Using a VPN
A VPN, which stands for Virtual Private Network, is a tool that you can use to access the Internet in a private and secure way. It works like a tunnel that connects you to the internet privately and anonymously. There are many different options out there, but all work under the same concept of protecting your connection.
Visit Secure Sites
When accessing the internet using public Wi-Fi, it’s best to visit websites that are secure. You will know which sites these are because they’re marked with a secure hypertext transfer protocol (HTTPS). These sites are made secure through the use of SSL (secure socket layer) certificates, which is a technology that establishes a secure connection between a browser and web server.
Google recognizes the importance of secure websites and shows security warnings for sites it believes are not completely secure. If you're using Google Chrome as a default browser, you will notice that it marks websites as ‘Not Secure’ when they don't use HTTPS.
Turn off Wi-Fi When not in Use
When you aren't surfing the internet, turn off the Wi-Fi on your device. It will not only save you from draining your battery, but will also protect you from threats in places where there are networks you’ve automatically connected to before. On that note, ‘forget’ Wi-Fi networks you’ve disconnected from after using them.
Avoid Using Public Wi-Fi
Only access internet using public networks if you really need to, and while you're at it, only visit general information sites. As much as possible, do not access internet sites where hackers can get sensitive information such as online banking sites and even your email.
If you must use the internet, why not create a mobile hotspot through your phone or Wi-Fi device? Just make sure you watch your data usage and bring a backup battery/charger along for the ride with your phone.
Want to learn more?
Public Wi-Fi is not as safe as everyone would assume, but if you take the necessary precautions, you can significantly reduce the risk of your information being exposed to others.
If you would like to find out more about the risks, and how to protect yourself, give us a call at (337) 436-4774.