6 Ways to Stay Safe on Public Wifi

There’s a lot of misconception in regards to the internet and security in the IT world. This is especially true when it comes to “What’s safe?” and “What’s Dangerous?“. Obviously this is a lot to take on in a single post so we’re going to focus primarily on unsecured, open Wi-Fi networks. These are networks that you would find in a restaurant, coffee shop, supermarket, some hotels and even some airports. Since the network is open, this allows for everyone to connect, even people who want to spy on your activity, or even steal your information. They can steal it using a variety of programs. The computers or devices connected are typically already infected/compromised, or worst case scenario, the hot spot you are connected to is malicious and used to steal your information.

On a secured network (a Wi-Fi network that requires you to enter in a password before you use their internet) there is a lot less worry involved due to the way encryption works to keep your internet activity safe. Even if someone is within range to attempt to try to connect to your network, your Wi-Fi password keeps all of your computers, phones, tablets, etc activity encrypted!

On an unsecured network (A Wi-Fi network that requires no password, found in the examples above) however, that layer of encryption goes away. This means that anyone or anything connected to the same network as you, can see any and all unencrypted information you access or even type in! They will even be able to see what encrypted sites you access, even though they cannot see what you do on said site, or type in. This is still incredibly dangerous. What if you’re accessing your bank or credit card site? Then all the guess work goes away, the thieves now know what bank you use all within a few seconds of work. Now there is a lot of good and relevant information in our last blog post so I am not going to repeat anything from there, for the most part. Be sure to read it if you want to be protected!

How do I keep my information safe then?

  1. Utilizing Safe Internet Habits
    The biggest thing to keep in mind is that no matter how many security programs and measures you have in place on your computer/network, all of it is meaningless if you do not exercise caution. This means downloading files from links you are not familiar with or going to a website that may not be safe. When you are using public Wi-Fi networks, be sure to not access anything that could potentially ruin your life if someone were to get a hold of this information. (For example, your bank account, loans, budgeting websites, etc.) Before you go to a site you’ve never heard of, or download something from an email, just ask yourself a couple of questions first.
    Does this website look very different than the sites I normally visit? If so, this website might just be very outdated and neglected, or it might be a site that infects your computer with malware.
    If you’re considering downloading something from an email, do you know this person? Why do you need to download this, did you ask for this file/information or was there any prior request from you asking for this? If you answered no to either of these questions, then odds are you do not want to be downloading anything being sent from that person.
  2. Connect to Safe Wi-Fi Networks
    Now obviously, not every public Wi-Fi network is malicious and bad to use, but all it takes is one bad apple to get your identity stolen. How exactly can you determine what is a “Good” network and what is a “Bad” network? First, before you connect to the Wi-Fi network, it wouldn’t hurt to ask someone who works at the business/establishment you are trying to connect to which Wi-Fi network is theirs. Anyone can just buy a hotspot and deploy it around a business to try to steal someones information by giving it a name you think is safe, or sometimes even the same exact name as the businesses Wi-Fi. Forbes even has an article with more information as to how these scams work. You should also avoid names of networks that sound like they’re trying to hard to get you to connect to their network. An example of this would be something like “Totally Free Wifi“, “Connect now for free internet!“, or anything similar. Odds are these are just people trying to get you to connect so they can monitor your network activity and try to steal your information.
  3. Use HTTPS instead of HTTP
    Let’s start with the basics first:Why should I use this, and how do I know if I am using it?” You always want to be using HTTPS, if possible, because it utilizes encryption whereas http is entirely unsecured. Now, keep in mind, that not every website needs encryption, but you should still have it, for a number of security reasons. If people who view your website need to type any information in, log in with a password, or make purchase than your site should 100% have SSL (Encryption) or you are doing a great disservice to your customers. Your customers could have their information stolen if you do have an https/SSL option for your website. Not to mention, that Google loves it and it will help your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) campaigns. Now that’s the why, but what about the “How?” As mentioned in our prior post about internet safety, the easiest way is to use an addon for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera known as “HTTPS Everywhere“. If you do not see the browser you use listed, that is likely because you should be using something else. On the example image below, I am going to use Ebay as an example. On the left, we have the secure and encrypted https version, whereas on the right we have the non-encrypted http connection.
  4. Keep your Anti-virus & Anti-malware programs Current
    Having good internet hygiene is not enough anymore to keep your devices protected. You need to have both an Anti-virus program as well as an Anti-malware program. If you need help choosing a good Anti-virus program, AV Comparative has compiled many tests on the most used software.  For Anti-malware you have quite an array of options and one of the most popular options is Malwarebytes. Be sure that you know what you’re doing on these last two programs though otherwise you could be deleting a lot of files you may actually want to keep.
  5. Utilize a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
    This one requires quite a bit of setup or knowledge of what you are doing in order to get it working. However, it is entirely worth it. A VPN is worth its weight in gold and entirely deserving of its own full length article. A VPN is sort of like an Anti-virus program (Which protects your computers data) but instead, it protects your online information. This includes the sites that you look at, what you type in and even what you download. Normally, without a VPN service your Internet Service Provider can track everything you do and interact with. If you’re using an open Wi-Fi network and looking at an unencrypted website, then again, anyone with a little bit of know-how can see everything you’re looking at and typing. When using a VPN though, the most someone can see is that you’re looking at something on the internet, or currently downloading something, but cannot determine the what, which is huge.  For getting a VPN setup, you have two options. The first, is to have setup one yourself (Or have us setup one for you) or to find a VPN service, install it and setup. A really popular VPN option is PrivateInternetAccess who is known for their privacy. Before you go out and purchase a VPN service though, it is very important that you do your homework! You are looking for a VPN that does not log or store ANY data on their customers. (Otherwise it ruins the entire point of having a VPN in the first place, which is for security and privacy.)
  6. Purchase and use a Hotspot
    Apart from a VPN (Which you should have anyway) buying a hotspot would be the best way to protect your data aside from just deciding to stop using public Wi-Fi altogether. You can get a hotspot through virtually any cell phone carrier (T-Mobile, Verizon, etc.) and it works like the data plan you would use on your smart phone. Some smart phones even allow you to use them as a wireless hotspot (Which will use your mobile carrier data plan) to provide Wi-Fi to any of your devices.