There are some basic truths that you rely on — the sun will come up, rain falls down and gravity keeps you from flying off the planet. However there are other things that you shouldn’t take for granted — free isn’t always free and public Wi-Fi isn’t always safe.
A recent experiment in Amsterdam showed just how vulnerable you make yourself when you log into public Wi-Fi. A hacker went to a local cafe and within 20 minutes he could tell you a lot of personal information about almost everyone in that cafe. It is scary just how vulnerable your wireless device makes you.
Avoid Public Wi-Fi If You Can
The easiest way to protect yourself is to not use public Wi-Fi. If you really need Internet access while you are on the go then pay the extra for a mobile data package. It’s a little more expensive, but the extra security is worth it.
If you have to log into a public Wi-Fi connection then the only way to assure that you data is safe is to log into a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This gives you an encrypted link to a trusted server which then acts as your gateway to the Internet. There is a variety to chose from such as the subscribed services privateinternetaccess.com or the free SecurityKISS, and openvpn.net. Each offer their own features, so spend some time researching the various VPN networks before deciding which one works for you.
Turn Wi-Fi Off
Make sure that your wireless device isn’t automatically looking for and connecting to Wi-Fi networks. The ‘known network’ that your device finds isn’t necessarily the network that you actually know, it could be a clone that was set up by a hacker.
Remove ‘Known’ Networks
Look at your device to find out if you can remove known networks from your settings and if possible turn off the option that lets it remember the networks you connected to. In Windows, uncheck the “Connect Automatically” button next to the network name. For Android devices you go into the Wi-Fi network list, long press the name and select “Forget Network”.
Confirm the Network Name
Before you log into any network, double check with the staff to ensure you are logging into the right network. You might think that the network called ‘Joes Cafe’ is the right one, but the real network name might be the one called ‘Joe234’. Hackers will set up fake networks with realistic names, and once you log into those fake networks they have access to everything on your computer.
Check for the Lock
Look for the lock in the browser corner whenever you are on a public Wi-Fi connection, this tells you that that your browser connection is secure. Also be sure to look for HTTPS at the beginning of your address.
Stop ignoring all of the security and update warnings, those are there for a reason. Keep your browser and Internet devices updated to ensure that you have the latest security features, but don’t do this on a public connection. Wait until you are home to do any software and security updates, it is not unheard of for a hacker to send malware through a public connection under the guise of an update.
Add a Layer of Protection
If a website has two-factor authentication then it is a good idea to use it. This way even if someone does hack your password there is still another layer of security they have to pass through.
Read the Disclaimer
Many Wi-Fi hotspots have a disclaimer window that pops up when you connect and most people just click through them without ever reading them, this can be a mistake. The terms usually include the basics such as an agreement to not do anything illegal, a statement about how anything you do on-line is your responsibility and usually there is a warning telling you that it is an unsecured network – all of this is to protect them from any potential lawsuits.
However, that disclaimer could have something else in it that you are agreeing to. One London based hotspot included a ‘Herod Clause’, meaning that subscribers agreed to give up their first born children. This was an experiment to see how many people read the disclaimer, and was by no means enforceable under English Law, however that doesn’t mean that there are not other things hidden in those disclaimers. You could be agreeing to monitoring, tracking or to even downloading malware, just because you wanted free Internet access.
Your system has security features for a reason, use them. Turn on your firewalls, update your malware and antivirus programs and disable file sharing. Just those simple steps make you less of a target than the person next to you.
We can’t stress enough, just how important it is to be smart when using a public Wi-Fi connection. Remember that most public connections are not secure, if they were then people wouldn’t be getting on them quite as easily. Even if the network is secure you are sharing it with everyone else that logged in, which means that you are as vulnerable to them as they are to you.