How to Stay Safe While Using Public WiFi

Women sitting outside on her laptop with a parried icon on the laptop case. She is practicing safe public Wi-Fi procedures

Public Wi-Fi networks are becoming ubiquitous fast. However, being a convenient way to connect while on the go, they can also expose your data to cybercriminals. When you connect to public Wi-Fi networks, any data sent through your connection is vulnerable to being detected and captured by hackers.

Free Wi-Fi is available in a multitude of settings: shopping malls, airports, restaurants, libraries, coffee shops, hotel rooms – you name it. When you think about it, these networks are being used by millions of people daily. Most people don’t realize that free public Wi-Fi isn’t secure, and even with a required password, that still doesn’t necessarily mean that your online activities are safe. So, if you use public Wi-Fi without adequate protection, you’re essentially risking your online identity.

There are two main types of attacks that hackers use to gain access to your personal information:

Hackers on The Same Network:

Cybercriminals’ ultimate objectives are to get connected to the networks that are being utilized by many users. Once they gain access, they can deploy tactics to take control of data and communications. One of the most common techniques used is Man In The Middle (MITM). This is where cybercriminals intercept communications between clients and a public Wi-Fi router. Consequently, they’re able to capture and view all incoming and outgoing data.

Hackers Who Create a Fake Wi-Fi Hotspot:

Another technique used to trick users into joining a compromised network is when hackers create a fake Wi-Fi hotspot. With this, they’re able to access your personal information of social accounts, financial credentials, and any other sensitive information that may be crucial to your well-being. They also can gain access to your files if the file-sharing option embeds into your system. Hackers can also push malware on your device by sending fake warnings of a system upgrade. Rather than upgrading, they install malware that can broadcast your sensitive information in real-time.

Ways to Keep Data Safe on Public WiFi

Realistically, it’s difficult to avoid using public Wi-Fi altogether. With that said, the least you could do moving forward is to ensure that you’re well protected while using them. On top of having a comprehensive business continuity plan, these useful tips and tricks will help keep your online identity safe while using public Wi-Fi.

Use a VPN

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is the most secure option to surf on public networks. It’s one of the most useful tools to help keep information safe when logged into public networks. VPNs encrypt your data traffic by acting as a protected tunnel between the browser and the server. All data passing through the tunnel can’t be visible to any cybercriminals.

Another possible benefit is that they mask your IP with their address from a different location. One thing to note is that not all VPNs are created equal; some free VPNs are less secure than the paid ones. Although they do cost money, paid VPNs will offer additional security to your needs.

Configure and Turn Off Sharing

When searching for a public Wi-Fi network, read each name very carefully and ask an employee if the business link is legitimate, as well as the offering IP address. Another important thing to consider, when connected to the public internet, is it necessary to have your sharing preferences turned on? If the answer is no, you can access your system preferences or the control panel and turn file sharing off.

Look for HTTPS

By looking for HTTPS at the beginning of every web address, you’re ensuring that you’re only visiting encrypted sites. This guarantees that any data submitted to the website will be safe from eavesdropping or tampering. Most browsers also include a padlock symbol at the beginning of web addresses, indicating that the site uses encryption.

Keep Firewall Enabled

By turning on firewall, you’re essentially preventing hackers from gaining unauthorized external access to your system. Although they do not provide complete protection, they still act as barriers that protect your device from data-based malware threats. By blocking malicious data, the firewall protects your computer and safeguards your data from any attacks.

If you want to enable firewall, you do so by heading over to your control panel, clicking on “System and Security,” and selecting “Windows Firewall.” If you are a Mac user, you can go to “System Preferences,” then “Security and Privacy,” then “Firewall.”

Use Antivirus

Antivirus helps protect your data while using public Wi-Fi by detecting malware that may get into your system. Always make sure to install the latest versions of antivirus on your device. If any known viruses load onto your device, an alert pops up.

Other Important Tips

Other than the tips mentioned above, here’s a list of more recommended actions that you can take to keep your system secure on public Wi-Fi:

  • Use multi-factor authentication
  • Turn off automatic connection in Wi-Fi settings
  • Check “forget network” after using public Wi-Fi
  • Don’t run financial transactions while using public networks

Conclusion

Digital security is essential, and we all need to understand the risks associated with using public Wi-Fi. By following and utilizing these measures moving forward, you’re saving yourself from falling victim to data theft. All of the tips we’ve mentioned above are simple, easy, relatively inexpensive, and could protect you from cybercriminals in public places.

At Parried, we offer small businesses the IT support and consulting they need to eliminate IT challenges and grow their business. Our team is always happy to help both new and existing clients, and with years of experience under our belt, we have a plethora of knowledge to provide. If you’d like to further your knowledge on IT security and ways to keep your data safe, download our cyber security checklist here.