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How to Use Public Wifi Safely

Most of us at some point have used public Wi-Fi. We hop on at coffee shops to check our messages, we post photos of our vacation from the hotel. Recent surveys have shown that 70% of tablet owners, and 53% of smartphone users have relied on public hotspots. It’s convenient, and even better… free! It also comes with some risks, which is what we’re exploring in this article, along with some tips to continue using public Wi-Fi safely.

WHY IS PUBLIC WI-FI RISKY?

Public Wi-FI, or hotspots are popular with consumers, for the same reason they’re popular with hackers; no authentication is required. That makes it a great opportunity for hackers to have access to unsecured devices sharing the network.

Hackers are able to position themselves between you and the connection. That means you’re not talking to the hotspot, or through the coffee shops Wi-Fi. Instead, you're communicating directly with the hacker, who’s collecting all the information you input. This information includes passwords to any email, banking or business platform you log into, Credit card information is easily collected along with security credentials to your business network.

This unsecured connection can also allow the hacker to load malware onto your device. This way they can continue gathering your private data while you’re at home or work and think you’re protected.

TOP TIPS TO STAY PROTECTED

  • ENSURE YOU’RE ON THE RIGHT WI-FI
    • If you’re at a Starbucks, for example, you might see a Wi-Fi option labeled “StarbucksPublicWifi”. So you click on it, and get to work. But did you check with the barista to ensure that’s theirs? It’s very easy for cyber criminals to set up and name their own public Wi-Fi.
  • DON’T USE PLATFORMS YOU NEED TO LOG INTO
    • Many people know not to place orders or enter credit cards when you’re on a public Wi-Fi, but even logging into a site can give away your financial information. If you decide to check on an order from Amazon and need to enter your password to do so, even if you’re not buying anything, you just gave away access.
  • TURN OFF YOUR WI-FI
    • You may not be going online at all, and instead are spending your time typing on a word processor, or playing a game on your phone. If that’s the case, turn your Wi-Fi off. If you don’t, your device will continually scan for a connection; choosing to connect to the first one without a password.
  • USE A VPN
    • A virtual private network (VPN) can encrypt all your data while using a public Wi-Fi. Think of the VPN as a private tunnel that protects everything you type or send over their network. That way, even if a hacker is positioned in the middle of your connection, it’s too time consuming for them to try decrypting it.
  • USE SOFTWARE TO PROTECT YOURSELF
    • Antivirus and malware software can make a huge difference in protecting your device. It’s important you update the software on a regular basis though. Cyber criminals are always finding new ways to get on your system or collect data. The only way to stay ahead of them is to keep your software updated.
    • Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) is another form of software that’s proving to be very helpful in protecting our connections. It will help keep your passwords safe while you’re logging in at home or on a public network. With 2FA, a physical security key is needed along with the Google Authenticator and other verification codes.

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