4 Public Wi-Fi Safety Tips


Free public Wi-Fi is essentially an internet connection you can freely use to connect your phone, tablet, laptop, and any other device that has wireless connectivity.  Public Wi-Fi hotspots can be found in cafés, hotels, coffee shops, libraries, airports, bookstores, and other places offered as a perk for its customers.  These hotspots are a convenient way to check emails, get caught up on social media sites or just surf the web.

However, public Wi-Fi hotspots are not secure.  Information that is sent back and forth is usually in plain-text (unencrypted) and can be intercepted by someone on the same network with the proper tools to eavesdrop and steal your information.  Many of these hacking tools are free, easy to use, and set up.  Your information could be collected without your knowledge.  Therefore, caution must be used when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks.  Here are some tips to help keep your information safe.

1.  Keep all software up to date

Before you even think about connecting to a public Wi-Fi network make sure all of your software including apps, web browsers, and anti-virus/anti-malware is up to date.  This helps to protect you against known threats and vulnerabilities.

2.  Check the Wi-Fi network name

Don’t connect to an unknown or unrecognized Wi-Fi network.  Let’s say you go to the StarTea Café and free Wi-Fi is offered.  You grab your favorite tea and sit down with your device.  Your device finds two public Wi-Fi networks.  One is called ‘Free Star Tea Café’ and the other is called ‘StarTea Café Public’.  You don’t notice the person sitting at the corner table with a laptop who has set up a fake Wi-Fi network waiting for unsuspecting devices to connect to it in hopes of stealing information.  Which one is the official StarTea Café’s free Wi-Fi?  It is a good idea to always ask an employee the actual network name before connecting.

Also, if a Wi-Fi hotspot is free, you should never be asked for credit information to make a payment or other personal information before connecting to the network.  This could be a sign that this not a legitimate network.

3.  Avoid typing sensitive information

Usernames, passwords, credit and account information are all considered sensitive data.  Since public Wi-Fi networks are not secure, you should avoid entering information that could put you at risk for identity theft.  It is best to wait until you are on a secure network, like your home network, to access any financial websites.

4.  Look for HTTPS

If you must use a public Wi-Fi hotspot to send sensitive information, make sure your information is secure (encrypted).  Look for the https in the URL to know the site you are visiting is secure.  You especially want to look for https when you log in and when you are about to send credit information.  Some websites use https on their log in pages – which is good – but once you log in, they switch back to unsecure http.  Make it a habit to always look for https before submitting any sensitive information.  See the Is Your Information Submitted Online Secure post for more information about https.

Public Wi-Fi hotspots are convenient but not secure.  Following these tips can help protect your information.

Next week’s topic:  Back to school internet safety tips

Christina Bonds

Christina Bonds

Christina Bonds is an Application Developer in the Web Technology department at Elon University.

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