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13 Tips for Staying Safe on Public Wi-Fi

Published on 28 December 16
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These days it does not matter where you are, you can always access the Internet. You can be at the airport and stream a movie while waiting for your flight. You can be sipping your Starbucks coffee while checking your mails. You can be at a public square, sitting on the bench, and play online games. Seriously with public Wi-Fi, you would not miss anything at all.
But here is the problem: public Wi-Fi can be very dangerous. After all, there can be hundreds of people using the same network. That increases the chances of having a hacker in your midst, tapping the network and your device, then stealing your information or downloading suspicious files.
The dangers do not have to mean you should veer away from public Wi-Fi forever. You simply need to be careful and follow these suggestions:
1. Don’t share files.
When you are using a home network, where there could be some family members who want to access your files and devices, you turn the sharing option on for convenience. But when you’re out, it is recommended that you turn it off. Otherwise, your files get shared to the many others who are using the same network.
2. Run your firewall and anti-virus software.
Some public Wi-Fi owners have already put up their firewall, but that does not really provide any guarantee, most especially if there are many users and some of them are actually hackers. To double the security, you can run the same programs right in your device. Download and run the firewall, as well as the anti-virus software. This way, if someone tries to plant these malicious items into your network, they can be filtered out.
3. Limit the websites you open.
Unless it is absolutely necessary, avoid opening your e-mail or buying items online. The latter forces you to share confidential information such as your name, address, and, most of all, credit card information. Use the network to simply browse. If you aren’t sure what websites to open, just ask yourself this question: if someone is really listening in the network, what type of website I would allow them to see?
4. Make sure that it’s an encrypted page.
If you can’t really help it, just see to it that the page itself is secure or encrypted. You can do this by checking two things. First look at the address bar. It should say https:// instead of http:// when you’re accessing e-mails and shopping cart services. Then you can bring your attention to the bottom of the screen. Does it have a golden key or lock? (It’s okay if it doesn’t have the latter. Some websites don’t already have them.) Take note that a secured page doesn’t mean a fool-proof page. It can still be hacked, but the chances are far lower compared to other hacking methods.
5. Take advantage of a VPN.
VPN stands for virtual private network. As its name implies, it allows you to reroute browsing, e-mailing, and other activities via a network that is completely separate from the public network. It simply gives double protection to you while you’re surfing the Internet.
6. Don’t download just about anything.
The idea of using free apps and software can be very exciting, but you should learn to slow down a bit and be more careful. It’s possible that the files you’re planning to download are malware. Once you download them, you’re infecting not just your PC but even the rest of the network.
7. Turn the Wi-Fi off when not in use.
If you’re not planning to surf, you may want to turn the Wi-Fi off. Mannually setting the Wi-Fi may be time-consuming, but it’s worth it in this case. This also prevents the connection from draining your battery without your knowledge.
8. Never let anyone use your device.
There will be times when someone will approach you and like to use your laptop, tablet, or phone for whatever reason, perhaps to contact a friend (for some reason, they left their own devices) or to test something. Don’t allow anyone to touch your device. They can steal your device, if not snoop into your passwords or change your settings to make your device more accessible in the public network.
9. Use very strong passwords.
Make sure that the passwords you’re using for your emails and other applications are strong. This means they are long and complex; the password is composed of numbers, letters, and some symbols (if these are allowed). Usually hackers let go of any account that is too hard to decode since it compels them to spend more time on it.
10. Update your software.
Make it a habit to update your program, including but not limited to the firewall and anti-virus programs. To ensure that you don’t forget it, you can automate the updates.
11. Avoid too-public Wi-Fi networks.
Not all networks are encrypted. You will instantly know this once you look for Wi-Fi networks. When you connect with one, it doesn’t ask for a password but instead it instantly connects you. It initially relieves you of worry, but it also extremely dangerous since just about everyone can already connect to it.
12. As much as possible don’t change anything in your phone.
Almost everyone wants to customize his phone to fit his preferences or needs. But as much possible, don’t overdo it. In fact, don’t do anything in its security settings. These devices have been designed to run excellent security. If there are flaws, they are instantly patched.
13. Clear your browser.
After you’re done surfing the Internet, clear your browser from cookies and autofills. The former can be used to keep track of your Internet activities. They can also be malware.
Again, not any of them allows you to connect with zero possibility of ever being hacked. However, they have been proven to decrease the risks significantly. Nevertheless, when you feel that something is amiss, trust your gut instinct and inform the administrator of the public network.
These days it does not matter where you are, you can always access the Internet. You can be at the airport and stream a movie while waiting for your flight. You can be sipping your Starbucks coffee while checking your mails. You can be at a public square, sitting on the bench, and play online games. Seriously with public Wi-Fi, you would not miss anything at all.

But here is the problem: public Wi-Fi can be very dangerous. After all, there can be hundreds of people using the same network. That increases the chances of having a hacker in your midst, tapping the network and your device, then stealing your information or downloading suspicious files.

The dangers do not have to mean you should veer away from public Wi-Fi forever. You simply need to be careful and follow these suggestions:

1. Don’t share files.

When you are using a home network, where there could be some family members who want to access your files and devices, you turn the sharing option on for convenience. But when you’re out, it is recommended that you turn it off. Otherwise, your files get shared to the many others who are using the same network.

2. Run your firewall and anti-virus software.

Some public Wi-Fi owners have already put up their firewall, but that does not really provide any guarantee, most especially if there are many users and some of them are actually hackers. To double the security, you can run the same programs right in your device. Download and run the firewall, as well as the anti-virus software. This way, if someone tries to plant these malicious items into your network, they can be filtered out.

3. Limit the websites you open.

Unless it is absolutely necessary, avoid opening your e-mail or buying items online. The latter forces you to share confidential information such as your name, address, and, most of all, credit card information. Use the network to simply browse. If you aren’t sure what websites to open, just ask yourself this question: if someone is really listening in the network, what type of website I would allow them to see?

4. Make sure that it’s an encrypted page.

If you can’t really help it, just see to it that the page itself is secure or encrypted. You can do this by checking two things. First look at the address bar. It should say https:// instead of http:// when you’re accessing e-mails and shopping cart services. Then you can bring your attention to the bottom of the screen. Does it have a golden key or lock? (It’s okay if it doesn’t have the latter. Some websites don’t already have them.) Take note that a secured page doesn’t mean a fool-proof page. It can still be hacked, but the chances are far lower compared to other hacking methods.

5. Take advantage of a VPN.

VPN stands for virtual private network. As its name implies, it allows you to reroute browsing, e-mailing, and other activities via a network that is completely separate from the public network. It simply gives double protection to you while you’re surfing the Internet.

6. Don’t download just about anything.

The idea of using free apps and software can be very exciting, but you should learn to slow down a bit and be more careful. It’s possible that the files you’re planning to download are malware. Once you download them, you’re infecting not just your PC but even the rest of the network.

7. Turn the Wi-Fi off when not in use.

If you’re not planning to surf, you may want to turn the Wi-Fi off. Mannually setting the Wi-Fi may be time-consuming, but it’s worth it in this case. This also prevents the connection from draining your battery without your knowledge.

8. Never let anyone use your device.

There will be times when someone will approach you and like to use your laptop, tablet, or phone for whatever reason, perhaps to contact a friend (for some reason, they left their own devices) or to test something. Don’t allow anyone to touch your device. They can steal your device, if not snoop into your passwords or change your settings to make your device more accessible in the public network.

9. Use very strong passwords.

Make sure that the passwords you’re using for your emails and other applications are strong. This means they are long and complex; the password is composed of numbers, letters, and some symbols (if these are allowed). Usually hackers let go of any account that is too hard to decode since it compels them to spend more time on it.

10. Update your software.

Make it a habit to update your program, including but not limited to the firewall and anti-virus programs. To ensure that you don’t forget it, you can automate the updates.

11. Avoid too-public Wi-Fi networks.

Not all networks are encrypted. You will instantly know this once you look for Wi-Fi networks. When you connect with one, it doesn’t ask for a password but instead it instantly connects you. It initially relieves you of worry, but it also extremely dangerous since just about everyone can already connect to it.

12. As much as possible don’t change anything in your phone.

Almost everyone wants to customize his phone to fit his preferences or needs. But as much possible, don’t overdo it. In fact, don’t do anything in its security settings. These devices have been designed to run excellent security. If there are flaws, they are instantly patched.

13. Clear your browser.

After you’re done surfing the Internet, clear your browser from cookies and autofills. The former can be used to keep track of your Internet activities. They can also be malware.

Again, not any of them allows you to connect with zero possibility of ever being hacked. However, they have been proven to decrease the risks significantly. Nevertheless, when you feel that something is amiss, trust your gut instinct and inform the administrator of the public network.

This blog is listed under Networks & IT Infrastructure and IT Security & Architecture Community

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