Internet cafés are so 2014. Today, almost every café worth its coffee beans offers free public WiFi. So do fast food restaurants, bus stops, intercity trains, airports, malls, libraries, hotels, and public toilets. Yes, even public toilets.
But the fact that WiFi is public and free doesn’t mean that it’s safe. To the contrary, it could be quite dangerous. Because if WiFi is free and accessible to you, then it’s free and accessible to everyone, including hackers.
WiFi On the Go – What You Need To Know
When you use free WiFi, you open up your device and communications to anyone else using that same free network. And though many people may be checking their email and updating their Facebook status just like you, others may be looking for their next online victim.
If you’re on public WiFi and your device is unprotected, hackers can access crucial personal information in seconds.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to stop using free WiFi. After all, free WiFi is a great convenience, especially if your mobile plan has been used up or you’re in an area where data roaming charges are prohibitively expensive. The key to using it, therefore, is to use it safely. And like many things in life, that requires common sense.
4 Ways to Protect Your Privacy on Public WiFi
Here are 4 important steps you can take to ensure that your public WiFi experience is safe and private.
1. Choose your network wisely
Using your wits can help you choose a relatively safe network and avoid hackers. One common hacking technique is known as a man-in-the-middle attack. In this type of attack, a hacker creates a nefarious network alongside an authentic network that’s being offered by a legitimate establishment. If you use the hacker’s network instead of the legitimate one, all your information is channeled directly via the hacker’s network, providing the hacker easy access to your information.
If your activities involve nothing more complicated than a Facebook post or two, this may not seem like a big deal, but if you’re checking your bank account or shopping online, you could be sending sensitive information directly into the hands of the bad guys. Anything you do can be tracked by those hackers with ease. It’s a bit like walking into a lion’s den which has been cleverly disguised as a café.
To avoid using a hacker’s site, double check with the concierge/waiter/librarian of the establishment offering you free WiFi to make sure you choose the right network. If you see two networks with strangely similar names, let the establishment know, as one of these networks could well be a hacker’s trap.
2. Close shared folders on your laptop
Using shared folders can be really handy when you’re working in an office network, but as soon as your computer is open to public WiFi, your shared folders can be viewed by anyone who is on the network. You can’t possibly know all the people who are accessing that free network, and even if you could, you probably don’t want all your shared files open to them. In one recent story, open shared files on a private laptop left one traveler’s private information – including her passport details and credit card numbers – visible to strangers staying at the same hotel.
To prevent this from happening, change the file sharing settings on your laptop, and make sure that privacy settings are different for public and private networks.
3. Turn off automatic Wi-Fi connections
Public WiFi is great, but there is no reason to open your device to it all day and all night. Consider it akin to the front door of your home. You want to be able to open and close the door when you go in and out of your home, but you certainly don’t need to leave the door open in the middle of the night, or while you’re taking a shower or watching TV. So why leave your mobile device open to public WiFi when you’re not using it?
All it takes is a tap or two to turn your automatic WiFi connection on and off. So if you don’t plan on using public WiFi while you’re out and about, leave the connection closed.
4. Use a VPN service
You don’t need to be a fan of acronyms to start using a VPN. Furthermore, if you can say WiFi three times fast, then you can certainly familiarize yourself with VPNs. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, a service that provides a protective barrier between you and the worldwide web. When you use a VPN, all of your communications are routed through a server. This routing encrypts the information you send out, and the information you receive, so that hackers can’t eavesdrop on your communications.
Using a VPN protects your privacy by ensuring that all your online activities remain private. So if someone is trying to track your online activities, your tracks only lead to the VPN. Everything else that you do online is untrackable.
The use of VPNs is increasingly common on desktop computers, as people realize the importance of protecting their privacy online. Mobile device-oriented VPNs such as ZoneAlarm Capsule provide you with a similar level of privacy on your mobile device, making sure that both outgoing and incoming communications are private and safe.
Public WiFi has changed the way many of us live. It’s a great way to check bus schedules on the go, send emails at the airport, or pass the time while waiting for an appointment. But like all things in life, public WiFi should be used with common sense. After all, your privacy depends on it.