Convenience versus security: What you need to do to stay safe on public Wi-Fi
Particularly during summer, people are on the go. Whether working remote or while on vacations, many of us are spending more time online – away from our private, secure networks.
As a result, the use of public Wi-Fi to connect to the internet can be very convenient. However, if you do find yourself needing to use public Wi-Fi, here are a dozen ways to do it safer to protect your data.
1. Confirm you have the correct network.
Some public Wi-Fi networks may look harmless but could be redirecting you to connect with a network set-up capable of viewing your internet viewing. This means that any passwords you use, or login credentials you enter can be identified, and a hacker could use this information to log in themselves and steal your information. You will want to make sure that when choosing a Wi-Fi network, you read the name very carefully or better yet, find someone who works where the public Wi-Fi is being shared to confirm the connection is on the up and up.
Don’t be fooled by networks that simply use the name of the place you are – for instance “Airport Wi-Fi” as someone could be spoofing the name in hopes of gaining access to your info.
As a general rule of thumb, known networks are generally safer than random free Wi-Fi networks that may show up on your phone in a public place.
2. Turn off auto-connect.
Despite the convenience of automatically connecting to a network in a place you often frequent – like a local coffee shop – do not agree to “auto-connect” unless you are positive that the network is legitimate, trusted, and secure.
If you have set this up in the past, you can disable this feature through the settings feature on your device. When traveling to unfamiliar places, make sure you keep these settings turned off, and you can also check off “forget network” after using public Wi-Fi to make sure you are not connected without consent. Monitoring your Bluetooth while in public places is also a good idea. Since Bluetooth allows for communication between other Bluetooth devices, a hacker could look for open Bluetooth signals to gain access to your devices. So again, keep this function turned off when you are in an unfamiliar area on your phone and other devices.
3. Turn off file sharing.
Apps like Airdrop are examples of file sharing features that you want to turn off when on a public Wi-Fi. So be sure to turn off the file sharing option in system preferences or your control panel. Here are the steps to turn off file sharing on your PC:
-Go to Network and Sharing Center.
-Then Change advanced sharing settings.
-Turn off file and printer sharing.
-And, for your MAC:
-Go to System Preferences.
-Next in Finder, click on Airdrop, and select Allow me to be discovered by: No One.
For iOS, just find Airdrop in the Control Center and turn it off.
4. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Considered the most secure option for maintaining your digital privacy while on a public Wi-Fi, a VPN can encrypt your data as it passes to and from your device. This gives you a protective ”tunnel” for your data to pass through.
5. Be suspicious, even of encrypted websites that start with HTTPS.
Typically, the presence of “https” and the lock icon give us a sense of security when on a website and indicate that the web traffic is encrypted and that visitors can share data safely.
However, hackers are counting on you to trust this, and now have started to lure people into websites with these same “credentials” to make them appear secure when they are not.
The FBI has issued several recommendations about websites that start with “https”:
-Do not simply trust the name on an email: question the intent of the email content.
-If you receive a suspicious email with a link from a known contact, confirm the message is legitimate by calling or emailing the contact. Do not reply directly to a suspicious email.
-Check for misspellings or wrong domains within a link (e.g., if an address that should end in “.gov” ends in “.com” instead).
-Do not trust a website just because it has a lock icon or “https” in the browser address bar.
6. Don’t access financial or sensitive information on the run.
If it can wait, know that accessing personal bank accounts, or similar sensitive personal data on unsecured public networks is never recommended. If you absolutely must access these types of accounts while on public Wi-Fi, try using your smartphone’s hotspot instead.
7. Secured vs. unsecured.
When looking at a public Wi-Fi, there are two kinds to choose from: Secured and unsecured.
Know what you are working with. Whenever possible connect to secured public networks. A secured network usually requires a user to agree to terms and conditions, register an account, or type in a password before connecting to the network. An unsecured network can be connected to without any type of security feature like a password or login
8. Keep your firewall enabled.
A firewall acts as a barrier to protect your devices from malware threats, so always keep this enabled on your devices.
Sometimes when disabling pop ups and notifications, users may disable the Windows firewall. To restart it on a PC, then go to the Control Panel, "System and Security" and select "Windows Firewall". If you are a Mac user, go to "System Preferences", then "Security & Privacy", then "Firewall" tab to enable the feature.
9. Having antivirus software is a must.
Be certain to install the latest version of an antivirus program on your laptop as these can protect you when you are using public Wi-Fi by detecting malware.
If any suspicious activity or malware gets into your system, the antivirus will alert you so you can take precautions.
10. Taking time to double check with 2FA
When logging into websites with personal information, using two-factor or multi-factor authentication is a great way to protect yourself. This often means an extra step or two as a verification code will be needed to proceed, but it keeps your private information and data more secure by thwarting access to your accounts unless the second (or third) form of verification is provided.
11. Keep an eye on your devices.
It’s common sense, but bears repeating, don't leave your laptop, tablet, or smartphone unattended. When someone is intent on getting a peek at your information, leaving the door open for them to take it is just foolish. Make sure you are mindful of where you are, where your devices are and who is always around you.
12. Additional safety tips.
Here are some common practices and other safety tips that will keep you more secure when using a public Wi-Fi connection:
-Use strong passwords.
-Encrypt your devices.
-Beware of phishing emails.
-Don’t share too many personal details on social media as it helps hackers guess passwords, etc.
-When you don’t need old information anymore, delete it.
-Don’t trust or connect to any network that asks you to install extra software or browser extensions.
-Stay up to date on the latest patches and software updates on your devices. Install them when you are on a safe and secure Wi-Fi to protect your devices against known issues.
Special thanks to the Office of Cyber Security for the article that made this month’s tech tips possible. Click here for the original article.