Public WiFi has provided a convenient way for internet users to stay connected while on the go.For some people, it’s become quite the necessity.
Those who work remotely often are left no choice but to use it if they have to travel. Sometimes accessing the net via public WiFi may be the only way they can resume working if their work requires an internet connection.
Public WiFi is also a relatively good (and perhaps common) choice for those who need to save money on their monthly utility bills.
However, the downside is that although it is convenient and doesn’t cost anything to use, public WiFi can be risky.
A few potential risks associated with the use of public networks include having data stolen, being spied on and acquiring malware. Luckily, protecting yourself is a possibility, so there’s no need to avoid public WiFi altogether. Here are some simple tips to help you stay protected.
Only Access What You Need To
Public WiFi should be used only for visiting secured websites (those that start with https://). If you must use it to visit unsecured sites as well, stick to those you absolutely need to access. Any websites that might contain your personal information should generally be avoided when you’re on a public network.
Not only can hackers use your browsing session as an opportunity to spy on you and steal your data, but sometimes you might be logging on to your online accounts in an area where others are and they could easily watch your screen from afar. Sometimes avoidance isn’t a possibility, so do your best to keep an eye out for potential threats both on your device and in your surrounding environment.
If you have to leave your device unattended at any time (even in seemingly safe areas, such as a hotel room), log out of all of your accounts and lock your device with a password. Anti-theft software can be helpful too, especially if you travel often.
Encrypt Your Connection
One of the best ways to protect yourself while on public WiFi is to use security software. Starting off with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a good idea, as it will secure your internet connection with encryption. This will essentially block nearby hackers who might be trying to access your device through the public network.
When you connect to a VPN, your online traffic is routed through a remote server that is encrypted. This allows you to use a secured internet connection from any location, and it can even be used on mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones (which tend to automatically connect to WiFi hotspots).
VPNs add an extra layer of privacy to your online browsing experience, too, by displaying the IP address of the remote server you connect to instead of your own so your actual location is hidden. For more information about VPNs, read through Secure Thoughts’ list of the three best VPNs for public WiFi hotspots.
Alter Sharing Settings
While on public WiFi, you should alter your sharing settings for some extra security. “Network discovery” should be turned off so your device won’t be visible to others on the same network. Check the settings on all your internet-enabled devices to see if you can disable it.
Many devices will have this option available under internet settings, but it might take a bit of exploring to find it. If using Windows 10, you’ll access your settings through the start menu and then click on “Network & Internet.” You’ll then need to click on “Sharing Options,” which will take you to the advanced sharing settings where you can disable network discovery.
If you have any difficulties altering your sharing settings, contact your device’s manufacturer for assistance.
Proceed with Caution
Assessing the risks of public WiFi use is a wise idea, especially if you have access to home internet service and can avoid using public networks. But for those who must connect to the net via public WiFi, always proceed with caution. If you suspect any issues with your device, run a virus scan with anti-virus software.
Be aware of how and when you’re connecting to the internet in the first place by ensuring your devices aren’t automatically connecting to WiFi hotspots (check your settings). Hackers sometimes set up fake hotspots, so confirm you are accessing the correct network.
By consistently following the above tips to the best of your ability, your internet sessions will be a lot safer, and there will be no need to shy away from public networks, even when they aren’t a necessity!
Do you use public WiFi often? How do you protect yourself online? Let us know in the comments below.
Cassie works remotely as an internet security blogger. Through her own experiences with public WiFi, she has learned firsthand how to avoid safety issues related to the use of unsecured networks and enjoys sharing useful recommendations with others on the net.