When preparing for this article we asked a couple of our internet security buddies their advice on how to stay safe on a public wifi network. Both said straight away – just don’t use it! Fair enough, but with 70% of people regularly using both computers and mobile devices routinely on public networks, that’s hardly helpful. So we pressed them a little on the best advice they could offer for the millions of people who have no other option – after all, it is free and that’s never a bad thing.
Here’s what they came up, and remember that it only takes to be slack on just one of these points to have your information/data exposed to cybercriminals. It does happen – a lot!
1) Practice Good Internet Hygiene
It is amazing how so many people don’t know or don’t care about the difference between an open and secure network. The vast majority of public wifi is not secured meaning that anybody could be out there snooping about. It isn’t difficult to intercept data on these networks – in fact, there are hundreds of tutorials and hacking software out there for cyber crooks to learn from and use. So what to do?
Effective internet hygiene means use public wifi appropriately. Nobody is likely bothered about what you are reading on the news. But do not enter any password or banking information over such a network. Ever. Open wifi is for casual convenience – it is not for transmitting sensitive data. Check out the connections available. Chances are that a coffee shop/library etc will use a semi-private connection requiring a password to access. These are still not ideal but at least less prone, statistically, to data being intercepted.
2) Set Up Your Device Appropriately
Chances are that your computer/phone/tablet is going to automatically connect assuming a network is trusted. This means it will assume everything is hunky-dory and enable potentially dangerous applications. Turn off any applications that enable file or data sharing. There’s an enormous list of these and it is easy to configure your device to switch between how it behaves on secure and insecure connections. Take five minutes to do this and you will be many times safer.
Always ensure that your antivirus and firewall are up to date and working appropriately. It sounds basic but do not just assume it is. A simple check is all it takes. Even better, and for those really security conscious, turn off your wifi when it is not in use or needed. Despite what the internet giants will tell you, there isn’t any requirement to be constantly online.
Rather than use a social media account – just text someone instead! If you must use public wifi – check out the many programs and apps that will only allow access to secured sites and so forth.
If you have data on your phone – use it! Even better, set up your own VPN connection for a few bucks a month to add an extra level of security. These are not totally infallible, but think about it from the hackers perspective – are they going to attack you instead of someone not using one and exposing their data readily? Unlikely so.