Nowadays, practically everybody has access to Wi-Fi, whether out and about, or at home. If you’re connecting to the internet using public Wi-Fi, as long as you’re careful about what you’re doing, and what sites you’re viewing, you will be fine from prying eyes and hackers waiting for an accidental connection to their computer and/or network.
In my opinion, hackers are probably one of the biggest problems with public Wi-Fi. The providers of the public Wi-Fi typically don’t require any sort of encryption, which gives anybody who wants to see what you’re doing and what sites your visiting, access to do so. Any Wi-Fi enabled laptop can use Wi-Fi monitoring programs to “eavesdrop” on your session.
Compromised Laptops and other devices
Some people don’t realize that their device has been compromised, and so when they connect to the same local network as you, there is a chance that files may share, and that may end up with you receiving a virus. If you’re using public Wi-Fi, simply setting the network location to being a public network locks down the connection, so you won’t receive or send any files or sensitive data.
Not all Hotspots are safe. It could be infected, or you could connect to a fake hotspot, set up entirely to steal your data. They also do not require encryption, so any information you send might not be secure. The best way to go about using a hotspot is to think safety. If it doesn’t require a WPA or WPA2 password, its more than likely not secure. If you have to use a hotspot, only use websites that you know are fully encrypted.
Security settings are there to help you. Every time you connect to a new Wi-Fi, you get to set your current location to either being a home, work, or in public. Each of these selections has their own preset list of settings. Selecting public, will give you the most security. If you want to check what the presets are, you can open up the Network and Sharing Center under the Control Panel, and look at the Advanced Sharing Settings, and tweak them however you see fit.
They don’t always hide behind computer screens. Identity thieves may hang out at airports, waiting for somebody to be working on something important. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re not using public Wi-Fi in addition. They might even set up an Ad Hoc Network with a generic “Free Public Wi-Fi” name in order to lure people into using it, to steal private data.
This is a simple, yet effective, step for keeping unwanted users from gaining access to your computer. Especially in a public setting, make sure your firewall is turned on. It’s not a guaranteed way to protect you, but it’s an added protection when using public Wi-Fi.
HTTPS & SSL
Using HTTPS, or enabling SSL, encrypts the data that gets passed back and forth between your computer, and the web server. Some sites automatically connect as HTTPS, but some don’t have the support for it. If you connect to a website that is only HTTP, do not log in, or if the “S” disappears, log out immediately. Some sites default to HTTP, but if you type in HTTPS it has the support to be used in that manner.
VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) provide the best safety and security you can get. It does this by connecting you to a private network server first and it encrypts your data. This means that hackers can only see scrambled bits of meaningless data and that you device will be protected from viruses and malware, even when you’re using a public network. Not all sites support, or offer SSL encryption, so people can still watch over your activity if you don’t use a VPN. Fortunately, VPNs work on all sorts of devices and you can find an article here to help you select the best one for you.
File and Printer Sharing
Chances are, you don’t password protect your files if you spend the majority of your time at home, or on private networks. But if you have file and printer sharing enabled, and connect to a public network, anybody on that network has access to all your files and your printer. It’s a good idea to shut off file and printer sharing before you connect to a public network to prevent easy access to them.
Encryption scrambles the information you send into a code that should render it inaccessible to others. To determine if the site you’re connected to is encrypted, look for the HTTPS in the web address on every page you visit. Emails, photo and video sharing social networks, and online banking all send personal information, which is stored on a server. If that information is not encrypted, anybody who has access to that network has access to your information.
Whether you’re a pro at public Wi-Fi, or just barely starting out using it, it’s always best to do things safely, and be proactive about defending your identity and ensuring you’re not basically handing out your information to anybody. Following these tips will make you less likely to get your identity stolen from using public Wi-Fi.