Public Wi-Fi can be a lifeline when you are traveling, and is available just about everywhere. From coffee shops to hotels to airports, public Wi-Fi is a convenience that makes being on the road a little easier. However, using public Wi-Fi exposes you to risks that you should be aware of and take steps to mitigate.
The most common public Wi-Fi security threat is the man-in-the-middle attack, in which a hacker intercepts communications between your mobile device and another system. The hacker is essentially eavesdropping on your conversation, and gaining access to your sensitive information. Public Wi-Fi networks are also a vector for malware given that unsecure devices frequently connect to them. In addition, hackers often set up rogue Wi-Fi networks that mimic a trusted network, and may directly target your mobile device as it searches for available Wi-Fi connections.
There are two types of public Wi-Fi, secured and unsecured. Any device within range can connect to an unsecured network without any type of security challenges, such as a login or password. A secured network requires the user to agree to the terms of service, register an account, or type a password prior to connecting to the network. But just because a secured network requires these extra steps doesn’t mean it’s necessarily safe. Public Wi-Fi should always be used with caution regardless of the connection type.
Following are 10 security tips to keep in mind when using public Wi-Fi:
- Use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your data traffic.
- Don’t access financial institutions or other sensitive data.
- Only browse e-commerce sites when using public Wi-Fi. Making purchases online requires the transmission of personal information that could include bank account and retailer login credentials.
- Only visit websites with HTTPS encryption while using public Wi-Fi, as opposed to less-secure HTTP addresses.
- Implement two-factor authentication when logging into sensitive sites, so hackers won’t be able to log in even if they capture your password.
- Turn off file sharing and AirDrop features. Whether you use a Windows PC or a Mac, it has some file sharing options that should be disabled.
- Disable Bluetooth when it is not being used. Bluetooth is an attack vector that is exploited by hackers, allowing them to gain access to your device.
- Enable your device’s built-in firewall, and keep Internet-connected apps and services to a minimum.
- Turn off Wi-Fi on your smartphone, tablet and laptop when not in use. It is a great security habit, and saves battery life
- Avoid public Wi-Fi networks whenever possible. This can be accomplished by tethering to your smartphone’s data connection, or using a mobile hotspot.
The more chances that you take with a free Wi-Fi connection, the greater the odds that you will suffer some type of security breach. There is a saying in the cybersecurity industry that there are three types of people in the world: those who have been hacked, those who will be hacked, and those who are already hacked but don’t know it yet. The better you protect yourself, the greater your chances of minimizing the potential damage.