Free Wi-Fi is available almost anywhere nowadays, and this is especially handy for travelers or people on the go who need to access the internet but don’t have a ready connection available. Public hotspots can be found anywhere from coffee shops, to parks, to even gasoline stations. One issue of using public Wi-Fi, however, is that it isn’t very safe. There are a lot of people just waiting for a user with an unprotected device to make the mistake of accessing something that needs a password, or sending sensitive information, like bank data, or business documents, to steal your unsecured data. After all, cybercrime is at an all time high these days thanks to the increasing number of users which are in direct proportion to people who are up to no good.
So, before you start browsing, checking emails, or making VoIP calls, you will have to the following to protect yourself:
1. Adjust the settings of your device. When you first connect to any network, your device will ask you if it is a public, work or home network. The public network setting has the highest security configuration so always choose that option. Make sure your firewall is on to control the data that goes in and out of your device. This is done by opening the control panel on PC’s looking for the Control Panel, clicking the System Security option, then the Windows Firewall option and then simply switching the firewall on. For Mac users the firewall option can be found under System preferences then going to Security, then the Firewall option.
Another security step to take is to disable the file and folder sharing option of your computer to make sure no one can access your data. This is also done through the control panel by going to the network and sharing option.
2. If possible only use SSL or secure websites. SSL and secure websites encrypt data before transferring it as opposed to normal websites that transfer their data in plain text and is easy to steal by anybody that knows how. You will know you are on a secure site by the “https” rather than the “http” on the URL in the address bar. A lot of websites including most email services and social media sites have the option to turn on the secure browsing option and SSL can be switched on for Windows Outlook.
3. Use a VPN Network. A VPN or Virtual Private Network works by routing all your traffic through a secure network and is another way to browse safely and anonymously when websites don’t come with SSL, but can also be used in tandem with SSL. There are a lot of VPN networks available, either free or some that require a monthly or yearly subscription. The difference between the two is generally the network speed, but both the free and paid VPN networks will greatly improve the safety of your device. Examples of VPN networks that require a subscription are VyperVPNHideMyAss and StrongVPN and the free ones include OpenVPN and HotSpot Shield.
4. Another way to protect your device is to have good and regularly dated anti-virus and spyware programs. Good examples of these would be Spybot and Malwarebytes, which are free to download.
The best thing to do is to simply assume that the public Wi-Fi hotspot you are using is not safe. If you can keep your use to light browsing and save doing things like checking your e-mail, logging in to social networking websites or bank accounts, or sharing sensitive data online for when your network is more secure, the better protected your data is.