The amazing ability to surf from anywhere sometimes distracts us from a very basic fact: the information may flow to us – but it can flow from us, in other, undesirable directions.So whether you are on your way to a vacation in a city that offers public Wi-Fi or you live in a city that is tourist friendly and you regularly surf the urban network or connect to the network at your local coffee shop, you need to pause and consider the hazards posed by public wireless networks. How much do you know about public Wi-Fi security? In honor of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, we’re sharing our top 10 tips for public Wi-Fi security.
Public Wi-Fi Security Tips in a Nutshell:
- Never use public Wi-Fi networks to access sensitive information.
What’s considered sensitive information? Banking, bill payer, online purchases, income taxes, stock and retirement accounts all contain sensitive information.
- Turn off sharing and do not allow your PC to be discoverable by other devices on the network.
This prevents others from seeing your machine on the network, making you less of a target.
- Treat all Wi-Fi networks with suspicion, especially open networks that don’t require a password or are unsecured.
Random public networks that pop up on your phone or operated by a third party you’re unfamiliar with may or may not be legitimate, but do you need to risk it? If you don’t know who they are or how they’re making their money, you should not trust them.
- Use a virtual private network (VPN) if you have one.
Many companies offer a VPN that you can use to secure your data as you move information back and forth. There are also a variety of trusted VPN services available online.
- Consider using your mobile phone as a hotspot if you need to access sensitive information.
Remember to take security protections with your mobile phone. Turn it off when not in use, and set a secure, unique password.
- Use HTTPS and SSL whenever possible.
Many sites will automatically connect you using HTTPS, but make sure it’s always there when you are sending or receiving sensitive data. Use HTTPS for vising website or enable SSL when using applications, such as an email client, that access the internet. This encrypts the data passed between your computer and the webserver.
- Turn the Wi-Fi off when you aren’t using it. Configure the wireless settings on your devices to ask before connecting to available Wi-Fi networks.
This is a simple step you should take to make sure your devices don’t automatically connect to available Wi-Fi hotspots. This both prevents your computer from broadcasting where it’s trying to connect to (and helping an attacker spoof that connection) and helps you make sure that you know what you’re connecting to.
- Watch out for duplicate names. When connecting to a coffee shop or hotel, ask the employees for the exact name of the network and password.
Did you find two networks with the same name? Update the owner and avoid connecting to that Wi-Fi network until the matter is clarified. Bad guys often spoof network names to catch unsuspecting users.
- Conduct bank operations only from a home network or at the bank itself
Why? It could expose you to a Man in the Middle (MITm) attack. Basically, that’s when communication between two systems is intercepted by an outside entity. Essentially a hacker gets between you and the website you’re visiting to intercept (and capture) the data you submit – such as your login credentials to your bank. They could do this with your personal information or large organizations – to get in the middle of your or your company’s financial transactions.
- Don’t forget to disconnect from the public Wi-Fi network, log out of Facebook, your email, or any other site you connected to over a public wireless network.
Websites such as Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and many more contain a lot of your personally identifiable information – including your passwords and security questions and answers. Keep them as safe as possible by logging out.
5 More Excellent Articles on Public Wi-Fi Security
Looking for more information? Here are a few excellent articles you should read and remember:
- Norton: Public Wi-Fi security 101
- Norton: The Dos and Don’ts of Using Public Wi-Fi
- Lifehacker: How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks
- Wired: Simple Steps to Protect Yourself on Public Wi-Fi
- Kaspersky: Public Wi-Fi Security
For more cybersecurity tips for everyone, check out the National Cybersecurity Awareness Month resources and toolkits.