In today’s busy world, convenience seems to outweigh consequence, especially with how people use their mobile devices. Free public Wi-Fi is one of those little luxuries that provide convenient access while mobile, but you do need to exercise caution in how you use it. The fact the network is open means someone with the right skills could compromise your security by snooping or planting malicious content on other machines attached to the same hub, yet surveys show that the overwhelming majority of Americans do it anyway.
While data theft from unsuspecting consumers using public WiFi spots is presumed to be fairly pervasive, it doesn’t get the attention that major hacks of corporate or financial systems do. For mobile devices the harm is digital. Data theft of your personal identity, such as passwords, financial information, or private pictures or videos.
While there are numerous threats, here’s a look at some of the security risks when using free Wi-Fi and hotspots, and what you can do to reduce your vulnerability.
- Don’t use public Wi-Fi to shop online, log in to your financial institution, or access other sensitive sites
- Change the settings on your device, so it does not automatically connect when it senses a WiFi network. In public spaces, before connecting try to ask someone (like the hotel manager) for the name of the WiFi hotspot to make sure you’re not connecting to a fake one.
- Avoid logging in to any online accounts that store any of your sensitive information. That list could be long if you think about it: retail websites, health provider sites, banks or other financial institution sites, email, and social media.
- Use a VPN. VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, allow users to securely access a private network and share data remotely through public networks. Much like a firewall protects your data on your computer, VPNs protect it online.
- Look for the padlock. Websites that use HTTPS encrypt your activity, so anything you do on that site is confidential. Look for a padlock in the address bar, or simply check the URL for “https://…”
We cannot do away with public Wi-Fi completely but what we can do is be wise about how we use it by following certain protocols. Stay secure online with these cyber security best practices and avoid becoming the next victim of cyber crime.
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