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5 essential tips for using public Wi-Fi securely

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Having access to the internet is now more critical than ever. We rely on it for work, school, and entertainment. Public Wi-Fi, a wireless hotspot that provides internet access to anyone in range, has become increasingly popular in recent years. It provides a convenient way to connect to the internet when you're on the go. Likewise, many places offer public Wi-Fi, including airports, coffee shops, hotels and public parks.

However, with public Wi-Fi comes public risk. This type of connection is less secure than a private, home network. As such, there are some security risks associated with using it. Therefore, it's essential to understand these risks and how to mitigate them. Fortunately, you can take simple steps to protect yourself when using a public Wi-Fi connection.

What are the risks of using a public Wi-Fi connection?

So what security risk does a public Wi-Fi connection pose? As with any public space, public Wi-Fi hotspots are places where people with malicious intent can congregate. By connecting to a public network, you open yourself up to many security risks, including:

  • Data breaches: A data breach occurs when an unauthorized source accesses and retries critical information from a person, group or software system. When you connect to public Wi-Fi, you're essentially trusting the network with your data. If the network is not properly secured, someone can intercept and view your data.
  • Cyberattacks: A cyberattack is a digital attack that seeks to damage, disrupt, or gain unauthorized access to a computer system. There are many types, but some common ones include viruses, worms, phishing scams and Denial of Service (DoS) attacks.
  • Hotspot honeypots: A hotspot honeypot is a public Wi-Fi network set up specifically to lure in unsuspecting users. Once connected, these users can be targeted with malware or other malicious attacks.
  • Session hijacking: Session hijacking is an attack where a malicious actor takes control of an active session between two devices. This can be done by spoofing the IP address of one of the devices or by using a man-in-the-middle attack. Once the session is hijacked, the attacker can gain access to sensitive information, such as login credentials.
  • Online activity tracking: When you connect to public Wi-Fi, your online activity can be tracked by the network owner or operator. This information can then be used for advertising purposes or sold to third-party companies.
  • Malware infections: Malware is a type of malicious software that's designed to damage or disable computers. When you connect to public Wi-Fi, you're at risk of downloading malware onto your device. This malware can collect sensitive information, such as login credentials and credit card numbers.
  • Network snooping: Network snooping is eavesdropping on network traffic to gather information. When you're connected to public Wi-Fi, someone on the same network can snoop on your traffic and view any sensitive information being transmitted.

Therefore, it's vital to take cybersecurity precautions when using any public Wi-Fi network.

How to protect yourself while using public Wi-Fi

No matter how often or where you use a wireless connection, it's essential to take steps to protect your security and privacy. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to reduce your risks when using public Wi-Fi.

Don't enter your personal information on any apps

Your personal information, such as your address, credit card number, and Social Security number, is valuable. However, if it falls into the wrong hands, it can be used to commit identity theft or fraud.

Therefore, you should avoid entering this information while using a public Wi-Fi connection. Additionally, avoid logging into sensitive accounts, such as your bank account or email account, while using a shared internet connection.

Entering personal information on a website or app while connected to public Wi-Fi is a consumer safety risk. This is because there is a heightened risk of data breaches and other malicious attacks. To protect yourself, only enter personal info while on a secure network.

Enable two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is an extra layer of account security used to verify your identity. When 2FA is enabled, you must enter your username and password and a code generated by an authenticator app or sent to your phone. This makes it more difficult for someone to access your account, even if they have your password.

You should enable 2FA for all your important accounts, such as your bank account, email account and social media accounts. To do this, research your service provider's account security policy and follow the instructions.

Enabling 2FA is one of the best ways to protect yourself when using public Wi-Fi. This is because it makes it more difficult for someone to gain access to your accounts, even if they can intercept your data.

Consider using a mobile VPN

A mobile VPN is a type of software that encrypts your data and routes it through a secure server. Securing your mobile device makes it more difficult for someone to intercept and view your data. Additionally, a mobile VPN can help you avoid hotspot honeypots and other malicious public Wi-Fi networks. If you use public Wi-Fi regularly, consider installing a mobile VPN on your device.

Look for secure websites

When entering sensitive information on a website, you should always check to ensure the connection is secure. For example, you can check for "HTTPS" in the URL and look for a lock icon. These are signs that the website uses SSL/TLS encryption and that your data will be securely transmitted.

Additionally, you can install browser extensions, such as a VPN browser extension or HTTPS Everywhere, that force websites to use HTTPS encryption. This is a good option if you're concerned about a particular website or if you frequently use public Wi-Fi.

Disable file sharing

File sharing is a convenient way to transfer files between devices. However, it's also a security risk. When you enable file sharing, you're giving other people on the network access to your files. This means someone could view or download sensitive information, such as your financial records or personal photos.

To protect yourself, you should disable file sharing before connecting to public Wi-Fi. You can usually do this in your device's "Network and Sharing Center" or "Network Connections" settings. If you're unsure how to disable file sharing, consult your device's documentation.

By disabling file sharing, you are:

  • Protecting sensitive information on your device.
  • Preventing other people from accessing your files.
  • Reducing the risk of data breaches and other malicious attacks.

Consider using your mobile data

If you’re ever unsure, it’s best to avoid using public Wi-Fi altogether and opt for your mobile data. Not only does this decrease your chances of encountering a security breach, but it’s also the easiest option if you have 5G or unlimited mobile data. If you have Wi-Fi-reliant devices, such as a tablet or a computer, consider using your own hotspot if you have one on your smartphone device.

Public Wi-Fi is a valuable tool to many people, but it's important to use it safely and securely. With knowledge and the proper precautions, you can significantly reduce your risk while using public Wi-Fi. Keep these tips in mind the next time you connect to public Wi-Fi and stay safe online.