Public Wi-fi Security Tips for Dummies 2020

Introduction

Public Wi-Fi Security Tips

Free public wi-fi today is available everywhere—whether that is in airports, coffee shops, hospitals, hotels, schools, and even public transportations. It’s convenient for anyone just to connect and then log in to access your accounts, catch up on your work and friends, check your emails, and even online shopping.

Because of this expediency, we often forget the privacy and security risks of using public wi-fi.

The best way to help protect your personal information is to avoid accessing sensitive information or performing confidential transactions when connected to public wi-fi, but if you cannot prevent it, there are a couple of safety measures that you should consider.

Two Types of Public Wi-fi

Public Wi-Fi Security Tips

1 – Secured

A secured network requires a user to agree to legal terms, register an account, or type in a password before connecting to the network. It may also need a fee or store purchase to gain access to the password or network.

2 – Unsecured

You can be connected to within range and without any security features like a password or login.

Why is your online privacy vulnerable to a cyberattack on public wi-fi?

Public Wi-Fi Security Tips

A simple answer to this is that the average public wi-fi connection isn’t secure. Just because you may need a password to log in, it doesn’t mean your online activities are encrypted.

Here are some reasons why your security and privacy are weak.

1- Encryption Protocol

Some wireless networks may use older standards for encryption, which can raise your security risks. Wireless encryption protocol (WEP), one of the first encryption conventions for wireless networking devices, is considered weak and easily susceptible to being hacked.

Wi-fi protected access (WPA) already replaced WEP as the standard for wireless networking devices, but it too was found to have weaknesses.

Users are especially at risk when connected to a wireless network that uses those outdated encryption protocols.

2- Fake wi-fi Hotspots

An attacker creates a fake hotspot with the intent to perform man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks on unsuspecting victims that join their rogue network.

If successful, this type of attack allows cyber thieves to intercept the communication between you and the servers of the websites you visit, allowing them to read, insert, and modify messages and data.

With pre-built kits that can perform MITM attacks, even minimally skilled hackers can eavesdrop and monitor your online traffic to capture valuable information, such as login credentials, credit card numbers, and Social Security numbers.

Signs that you logged on to a fake Wi-fi

Devices look for known wi-fi networks, and hackers can use this to their advantage.

If you are in a coffee shop, they might rename it to the coffee shop’s name. Instead of connecting to a real coffee shop’s wi-fi hotspot, your device connects to the attacker’s fake hotspot. This means the attacker’s network is between your device and the actual wi-fi network, so they’re able to see your online traffic.

Here’s another tactic. A hacker creates a public wi-fi network called “Free wi-fi” and waits for victims to join. A lot of people likely will try to connect, especially if free Internet service is being offered. Who doesn’t, right?

And here’s one more approach. You might be away from home — in a library, for instance — and suddenly your laptop shows that you’re connected to your home network. Chances are, someone could have intercepted your computer’s broadcast request.

Public wi-fi security tips: How to stay protected on public wi-fi

Public Wi-Fi Security Tips

1 – Be aware

Public Wi-fi, regardless if it’s secured and especially unsecured, are at risk. Be cautious.

2 – Treat all Wi-fi links with suspicion

Don’t just assume that the wi-fi link is legitimate. It could be a phony Wi-fi that has been set up by a cybercriminal that’s trying to capture valuable, personal information from unsuspecting users. Question everything — and don’t connect to an unknown or unrecognized wireless access point.

Don’t use public wi-fi networks to access sensitive information such as your work email or bank credentials.

If it’s a dire situation — or if you regularly use public wi-fi — consider a virtual private network (VPN). You can find a variety of VPN services online, but if you want a useful service, you’ll likely have to pay for it. Be sure to choose one from a reputable security provider.

3 – Look for HTTPS

If it’s possible, avoid websites that start only with “HTTP.” Website addresses that begin with https are encrypted, adding an extra layer of security and making your browsing more secure. If you connect to an unsecured wi-fi network and use regular HTTP instead of https, your traffic could be visible to anyone else on the web.

4 – Turn off file sharing and Limit AirDrop

Make sure you turn off file sharing before accessing public wi-fi. If you keep file sharing on, your folders may be accessible to anyone connected to the same public network.

To Limit AirDrop, head to Finder, click on AirDrop, and select Allow me to be discovered by No One. For iOS, just find AirDrop in the Control Center and turn it off.

How to Turn Off File Sharing in Windows 10

Step 1: Open Control Panel.

Step 2: Choose View network status and tasks under Network and Internet.

Step 3: Select Change advanced sharing settings in Network and Sharing Center.

Step 4: Choose Turn on file and printer sharing or Turn off file and printer sharing, and tap Save changes.

5 – Don’t Give Away Too Much Info

Be very wary of signing up for public wi-fi access if you’re getting asked for a bunch of personal details, like your email address or your phone number. If you have to connect to networks like this, stick to places you trust (see above) and consider using a second email address that isn’t your primary or work email.

Stores and restaurants that do this want to be able to recognize you across multiple wi-fi hotspots and tailor their marketing accordingly, so it’s up to you to decide whether the trade-off is worth it for some free internet access.

6- Protect your passwords

When you’re using public wi-fi, cyber snoops could gain access to your passwords. One way to enhance your protection is by enabling two-factor authentication, or 2FA, on any services that offer it.

When enabled, this added protection ensures that even if someone gains access to your password while you’re using public wi-fi, they still won’t be able to access your accounts. Usually, you’ll receive a second login step — a call or a code on your smartphone, for instance — that you’ll use to log in to your account.

7- Keep your software update

Always update your software, especially your antivirus as soon as patches and system updates are released. Security issues often happen when software patches aren’t enabled, and your devices lack the latest protections.

8- Verify if the Wi-fi access is legitimate

Speak with an employee at the location that’s providing the public wi-fi connection, ask for information about their legitimate wi-fi access point — such as the connection’s name and IP address.

9 – Protect your device against cyberattacks

Make sure all of your devices are protected by a rigorous anti-malware and security solution — and ensure that it’s updated as regularly as possible.

10- Turn off your Bluetooth Connectivity 

Leaving Bluetooth on while in public places can pose a massive risk to your cybersecurity. Bluetooth connectivity allows various devices to communicate with each other, and a hacker can look for open Bluetooth signals to gain access to your devices. Keep this function on your phone and other devices locked down when you leave your home, office, or similar secured area.

11- Don’t shop online

it doesn’t seem like it involves sensitive data, but making purchases online requires personal information that could include bank account and retailer login credentials. Shopping isn’t something you want to do on an unsecured wi-fi network.

12 – Consider getting a privacy screen for your phone and laptop.

If you must access sensitive information in public areas, consider putting a privacy screen on your devices. A privacy screen will blacken your display for everyone but you. Fraudsters seeking to copy or photograph sensitive information on your screen will be unable to.

Don’t leave your laptop, tablet, or smartphone unattended in a public place. Even if you’re working on a secure wi-fi network, that won’t stop someone from taking your property or sneaking a peek at your device.

13 – Protect your device against cyberattacks

Get a trusted anti-malware and security solution for all your devices.

14 – Log out

Public Wi-Fi Security Tips

When you’re done browsing, be sure to log out of any services you were using. Also, check your settings to make sure your device will ‘forget the network’ and not automatically reconnect to that network again if you’re within range without your permission.

The best tip for public wi-fi security is not to use it at all. Use your phone’s hotspot instead. If you really need to get connected, though, and by considering the tips mentioned above should maximize your chances of staying out of trouble and being safe while connected in a Public wi-fi.

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