Would you like some identity theft to go with your café latte? No? Good. Despite this, many people run the risk of being hacked almost every day by offering up private info at public hotspots. Some cybercriminals even set up ad hoc networks with the name “free public WiFi” to lure people in so they can capture private data.
Sounds like the plot to a spy thriller? It’s not. This happens all the time.
It’s now commonplace to log onto free public WiFi to check email, the latest updates on your favorite social network, and do a little Web surfing. However, doing this could wind up revealing your private information if you aren’t careful—and it could happen without you even realizing it.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to help prevent this. Here are several things to consider on your next public WiFi outing:.
Use “https” when possible:
First off, recognize that your average free public WiFi isn’t secure. Just because you need a password to log in, this doesn’t mean you have an encrypted signal. Anyone with just a small knowledge of hacking skill can easily tap into your signal over unsecure networks and “sniff” your passwords. With the right tools, this is almost as easy as listening to the same radio station on two different devices. (WiFi uses radio signals to broadcast.)
Steps to take:
To avoid inadvertently passing out your passwords, only log in with sites using the secure “https” in the URL instead of “http” when you visit a site. (You’ll find this at the beginning of the address bar in your browser). Many sites don’t offer this SSL access, though and it isn’t completely foolproof. To be extra safe, consider waiting until you’re home with secure access until you do any online banking or log on to any account that requires a password. Also look for the ‘https’ on every account page you visit, not just the sign-in page.
Use VPN (Virtual Private Network):
As its name implies, VPN creates a private network for you to shuttle information back and forth. Think of it as a secure telephone line instead of shouting out your conversation to everyone present in the room.
Steps to take:
For those of you with laptops from your place of employment, you may already have VPN installed on your machine. Follow the steps your IT department recommends. If you aren’t sure, ask. And for your personal devices, you can install VPN software. Extra pro tip: Look for a trusted name in security when selecting which works best for you.
Beware of “shoulder surfing”:
Walk into any airport or café, and you’re likely to see a wide canvass of people with their laptops open, busily reading and typing away. You’ll also have unfettered access to their screens—whether it’s private information or not. A secure connection is meaningless if someone else is able to watch what sites you go to and copy down all of your logins.
Steps to take:
Again, the safest bet is to wait until you’re in the privacy of your own home and on a secure signal before visiting any site that could display information you’d prefer to keep private. If it just can’t wait however, follow our steps mentioned above and park yourself in the corner with your screen turned away from everyone else present. You might also want to consider a laptop privacy screen, if you’re often commuting on a train, bus, or airplane. Taking advantage of free public WiFi can be a great way to catch up on your favorite Internet sites while you’re out. Just be aware that you need to take precautions while you surf this way. Stay aware and stay safe.
Avoid Suspicious Networks
Hackers frequently try to trick people via slightly-misspelled WiFi network names. Suspicious networks also include ad-hoc networks, aka direct WiFi connections you don’t know, and those with shady names such as ‘Free Public WiFi.’
Steps to take:
Steer clear of these networks and wait until a secure connection is available.
Additional Tips & Tricks
Use the following additional tips to stay protected on public WiFi:
- Use strong passwords on all email, messaging, calling, and voicemail services accessed through your device’s web browser.
- Install a security app on your mobile device for safer smartphone connections.
- Use a VPN service to encrypt the data you send.
- Ensure your laptop isn’t configured to share files or be noticeable on public and guest networks.
- Verify your login through the provider’s authentication page.
- Make certain all email accounts are secure.
- Always close out of accounts instead of staying permanently logged in.
- Change the settings on your mobile device so it doesn’t automatically connect to public WiFi networks.
- Use reputable, encrypted apps only.