If you’re like most people, you like to stay connected whether you are traveling or just on the go. That’s why it can be tempting to connect to free, public Wi-Fi networks, but you should know that these networks could open you up to some serious risks.
Public Wi-Fi networks often lack a security measure called encryption, which scrambles the information sent from your computer or device to the router so strangers cannot read it. Without this security measure in place, the information you send over these networks can potentially be intercepted by cybercrooks.
This information could include your banking and social media passwords, as well as your identity information. A nosy cybercriminal could also potentially snoop on you by watching which websites you visit, and what you type into web forms.
In fact, it is so easy to steal your information over unsecured networks cybercrooks sometimes setup malicious Wi-Fi hotspots in high-traffic areas, like airports, with the intention of grabbing users’ information.
That’s why if you have to connect when you’re away, you should only use secure and well-advertised Wi-Fi networks. You can usually tell if they use encryption because they require a password to join.
If you have to do something sensitive online, like check your bank account balance or make a purchase, try to stick to webpages that start with “HTTPS” rather than just “HTTP”. The “S” stands for secure, and indicates that the site uses encryption to protect your data. You can also look for a green lock icon at the beginning of the browser address, which indicates that the website connection is secure.
If you are on your mobile phone, you can skip the Wi-Fi network altogether and connect using the cellular network. It is somewhat more secure, since it’s harder for cybercrooks to sniff out your individual data from others on the network.
If you travel a lot, consider investing in a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which is a piece of software that allows you to create a secure connection to another network over the Internet. Anyone potentially trying to snoop on you will only see that you are connected to the VPN, and not what you are doing.
Of course, the most important thing is to remember that using public Wi-Fi is always risky, and requires some extra steps to protect your data.
Here are some more tips to help keep you safe:
- Think twice before connecting to any public Wi-Fi network, especially if it does not require a password to join.
- Avoid using free, public computers. Cybercriminals sometimes place compromised computers in legitimate Wi-Fi hotspots with the intention of spreading malware or stealing your data.
- Try to save sensitive transactions, like banking and online shopping, for your secure home or work networks.
- If you do use a public network, stick to sites that begin with “HTTPS” so you know they are secure. The HTTPS Everywhere browser extension can direct you to encrypted pages when available. Also, look for the green lock icon in the browser’s address bar.
- When using your laptop, make sure to turn off “sharing” of your folders and devices so no one else on the network can access them. A quick web search can tell you how to do this on your operating system.
- Use comprehensive security software and keep it up-to-date. If your software includes a firewall, make sure to enable it.