Public Wi-Fi network has made our digital lives easier than before. It allows anyone to stay connected online while traveling or when in public places such as coffee shops or hotels. But, not all public wireless networks are as safe as you’d like to believe. This article will explain why.
Even with a password, a public Wi-Fi might not protect your data against other people connected to the same network. It doesn’t take a genius to hack someone’s username and password and check out their online activities. Here’s why your personal information is at risk when using public Wi-Fi and some tips to keep you safe when on it.
Staying Safe While Using Public Wi-Fi
Be wary of public network
A simple trick that hackers use to access someone’s information is by spoofing a network’s name. It’s a method called man-in-the-middle attack. It’s when a malicious hacker (the so-called man in the middle) manipulates data transmitted between you and the website you’re visiting.
Say, you’re in hotel and you saw a “Free [Hotel Name] WIFI” on the available WIFI network list. It may look harmless, but this can be a fake WIFI network set up by hackers to fool users. As soon as you’re connected to their fake network, they can now hack your data.
Here’s a tip: If you plan to use an establishment’s WIFI, confirm the WIFI name and password directly from their employees. Fake network may look similar to real ones, but they can’t be the same.
The best options for you are: search for the right network, use a cellular data or wait to connect until you reach a different location. Always disable the “join open networks automatically” from your device’s WI-FI settings This is to prevent from accidentally connecting to a fake network.
Look for the Green Lock on Website Address Bar
Hackers can easily sniff out traffic from an ordinary HTTP websites including private information such as passwords and credit card details. An SSL-enabled website, one that starts its website address with HTTPS, encrypts data transmitted between the user’s computer and the web server so it doesn’t get intercepted by a third party intruder.
Here’s a tip: It’s easy to spot if a website is protected by a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) software. On the web address bar, if you see a green lock icon with ‘HTTPS’ before a website’s URL, then it means that this site has SSL and it’s safe to transact with this website.
Use Virtual Private Network (VPN)
If you really can’t help using an unsecured WIFI network, an effective way to protect yourself is to install a VPN app on your device. A VPN reroutes your traffic to the vendor’s encrypted server. Aside from securing your access, you can also change your country location so you can view censored content from specific countries.
Here’s a tip: Not all free VPNs are reliable. Some might offer free VPN access but route your traffic for ads. Go for premium service from a reputable VPN. Some of the well-known VPN providers you can check out: IPVanish, TunnelBear and AirVPN. They are highly recommended because they can ‘tunnel’ your data while accessing a public WIFI.
Switch On Two-Factor Authentication
Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) is one of the safest methods to secure your account even when a password is compromised. You might be familiar with this as most sites like Google asks you to enable 2FA for your account.
When 2FA is turned on, your account will send a confirmation code through text message after entering a password. You can access your account once you enter the code correctly. Even if an intruder has your password through a public WI-FI, it still can’t access your account without the confirmation code. It may however take you longer to log in, but at least makes it extra inconvenient for intruders to access your account.
Here’s a tip: Most sites like Facebook and Twitter already offers this service. See if your account has a two-factor authentication function.
Update your apps
Make it a habit to patch your apps and smart devices with updated versions. However, it’s important to do it only on trusted network (like home or work network) and never on a public WI-FI. When you update a software on public WI-FI, chances are, it might install malware to your machine.
Forget the network
After you’re done with web browsing, always log out to any network you were assigned to. Choose the option option to “forget the network” on your WI-FI settings so your device won’t connect to that network automatically.
Here’s a tip: If you’re using Mac, go to System Preferences, then Network and click Advanced under WI-FI category. Uncheck this option – “Remember networks this computer has joined.” You can also manually deselect the network names by clicking on the minus button.
On Window, go to Control Panel, then under Network and Sharing Center, click on the network name. Click Wireless Properties and uncheck the “Connect automatically when this network is in range.” You can also do this by unchecking the “Connect Automatically” checkbox right beside network name.
On Android, go to the Wi-Fi network list. Long press on the network name and choose “Forget Network.” On iOS, go to Settings, choose a WI-FI network, click the ‘i’ icon beside the network name and select “Forget This Network.” As an added security precaution, turn on the “Ask To Join Networks” option in the WI-FI menu.
Go off the grid
Unless it requires an Internet access, most tasks like writing or designing images can be done without the Internet. Save your banking or email sessions for when you’re on a secure network or a cellular data.
Other safety tips
Don’t download or click any suspicious software or attachments on an email. Do not share devices or folders with anyone on a network. This minimizes security risk against unauthorized access.
Here’s a tip: For Windows user, go to the Network and Sharing Center in Control Panel. Go to the Change advanced sharing settings link. You can tweak different choices for private and public network. For OS X users, go to the Sharing entry under System Preferences. Uncheck the File Sharing box.
Be Smart when Browsing the Web
Ask yourself first if you really have to go online using a public network. High-risk transactions like online banking and emails and file sharing can be done later when you’re on cellular data or a secure network.
Again, it takes a great deal of common sense and a conscious habit when using a public WI-FI network. By following all these helpful tips, it makes it harder for hackers to steal your data right under your nose.