Whatever your travel plans are this summer, you will most likely need to access a public network at some point.
At home, you use your own wireless network. You know it’s secure and who’s using it. Public Wi-Fi is a completely different story. You have no way of knowing exactly who set it up and who’s connected to it. The threat of hackers, unencrypted messages getting into the wrong hands, and marketing tailored to you based on the websites you visit when using the network, is all too great.
With that introduction, here are 10 simple tips to protect yourself when using public Wi-Fi:
1) Can you use a Smartphone hotspot from a trustworthy fellow traveler? If yes, use it! Nothing guarantees safety more than using your very own network. It may be a little bit slower, but the benefits far outweigh the risks.
2) Take your Wi-Fi off auto-connect. That way, you can choose your own network instead of automatically connecting to less-than-desirable networks.
3) When the only network available is a public network, choose a well-known one. Well-known networks, especially ones that give you an access code or are already getting your business – such as that of the hotel you’re staying at or the coffee shop you frequent – are far superior to networks that are accessible to everyone, especially if you’re unsure how they are profiting from the free service they offer. Remember, if you can easily access a network, everyone else can as well, which means you’re more vulnerable.
4) Study the name of the network you’re connecting to. Sounds overly cautious? Maybe. But hackers can easily set up a network with a name that sounds safe and familiar. If you’re unsure of a network’s legitimacy, verify it with the owner. In addition, it’s best to connect to as few networks as possible and reuse networks you have accessed in the past. You are obviously more protected if fewer networks have access to your data!
5) Before using a website, check the address bar for “https” instead of the standard “http.” What’s the difference? Google Chrome lets you know which sites are safe through that extra “s.” Using a site with “https” means no one can see your data.
6) Many public networks require private information, such as your name and e-mail address, to access them. Be prudent with the information you provide. You don’t know how the network profits from the free service they’re offering and if/to whom it may be selling your data. Some people choose to sign up with an alternative e-mail address instead of their personal one. Of course, if you use such a network, signing into sites containing sensitive personal information – e.g., your bank or healthcare records – is not advisable.
7) When using a public network, try to limit – or completely turn off – file sharing and airdropping. This step ensures that no one on the network at the same time will be able to get your files, and you won’t accidentally receive someone else’s files.
8) Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) whenever possible. What’s a VPN? Every single thing you do on the Internet goes though your personal IP address, which is set up by your public service provider. A VPN enables you to circumvent your IP address and assume another IP address in the location of your choice. A VPN allows all your Internet browsing to be private, encrypted, and shielded from your Internet provider.
9) Try not to download files over a public network. Documents and music should be downloaded and saved beforehand so you can access them freely. Again, you don’t want someone to see the files you’re downloading or the passwords you use to retrieve those files.
10) Most people skip the “Terms and Conditions” when connecting to public networks. And for good reason. They’re long and boring reads. However, sometimes you can detect suspicious networks by skimming their “Terms and Conditions,” so don’t be too quick to click “I Agree” without perusing them first.