With streaming services, online banking, cryptocurrency, and social media coming of age all at once, it’s no wonder Wi-Fi is in high demand. It’s not just a minor inconvenience when a restaurant, or even now retail stores, don’t offer free Wi-Fi. Free Wi-Fi for the modern person is at times the deciding factor as to whether a business will be visited or not. It’s more important than ever, consequently, to be able to discern between secure public Wi-Fi options and insecure public Wi-Fi networks, to know the basic steps you can take to use public Wi-Fi safely and securely. Follow the tips below to use public Wi-Fi with some peace of mind.
First Thing’s First: Use the Correct Network
This may seem obvious enough. But the difference between HiltonGuest and HiltonGuests can mean waking up with an empty bank account. Wi-Phishing, which is what this kind of hack is called, entails setting up a Wi-Fi network that resembles a public Wi-Fi connection but which actually takes you to a hacker’s network. You are tricked into logging into the wrong network, and then the hacker has access to all your information. Be sure to pay close attention to the next public Wi-Fi network to which you connect. Hackers leverage the appearance of legitimacy to connect to your computer, so be sure you verify the network you connect to is, in fact, authentic, and doesn’t just appear that way.
Leave the Sensitive Data at Home
Since public Wi-Fi networks are public, they’re accessible by anyone with a device that connects to the internet. That means that anybody can access your information with the right tools and a certain level of know-how. The best way to ensure you stay safe is to refrain from doing online banking, making purchases, or dealing with any kind of transaction that involves personal information while you’re on public Wi-Fi. Or, if you must, follow the three tips below to give you the best chance at avoiding a data breach.
Connect to Secure Websites Only
HTTPS, the mark of website security, is now recognized by Google as an important ranking factor for websites. The largest search engine in the world recognizes how important encryption is for websites, and now you should follow suit. The fact is that website encryption is one of the most important methods of securing your private information on public networks. What HTTPS does is encrypt data packets you send through the wires of the internet (yes, the internet is, at base, a material thing, and not virtual). When data packets are encrypted they are scrambled into a randomized number/letter code so that it is not self-evident what kind of information is contained within the data packet. As a result, a text to a friend looks no different on the surface than a bank number or a photo like on Facebook. Look for the HTTPS or “Secure” symbol in your website browser to ensure you’re using a secure site.
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
VPN services keep your data secure by not only encrypting data transmission, but by also “masking” your data traffic. The most useful thing about VPNs is they reroute your traffic to something like a virtual tunnel. Whenever you use a VPN, the data packets you send and receive will not go through the public Wi-Fi network you happen to be connected to, but will go directly to a VPN server. This makes your location and information anonymous. Everyone who connects to the same VPN, for instance, will share the VPN’s server as the source of their data. This means that your information will not only be scrambled by an encryption, and secured by its transmission directly to a VPN server, but will also be scrambled with a multitude of other user encrypted packets so that it will become practically impossible to separate what belongs to who and what data packets are what. Helpfully, PC Magazine compiled a list of the best VPN services for your convenience. The trusted Norton security software now offers VPN services, and it appears to be the cheapest on the market.
Keep Everything Up-to-Date
And, of course, it is true that you should keep all your apps, and especially your device’s software, up-to-date. The reason is simple: updates are disbursed for two purposes, either to add a feature or improve what is already on a device. Most of the time updates include bug fixes, and a large portion of these bug fixes include patches for security flaws. So always keep your device updated and never trust a device that isn’t.
As public Wi-Fi networks are becoming more and more common, the need for security has grown as well. There are basic steps you can take to ensure you connect to public Wi-Fi networks securely, such as refraining from completing transactions online while your out in public, using only secured websites, and keeping your phone updated. And there are more advanced security steps you can take, such as utilizing a VPN or installing extra virus and malware software on your devices. Whatever you do, pay attention to the security measures you have in place to keep your private information safe.