Today’s society is more connected then at any other time in history. Along with the increase of connectivity comes easy access to the Internet. Many businesses, such as restaurants and hotels, offer their customers free Wi-Fi access as a courtesy. Although using free Wi-Fi may be convenient, it should also be done responsibly. There are many hackers and cybercriminals out there that prey on patrons of free public Wi-Fi hotspots in order to steal passwords, intercept personal information or credit card numbers, install malware, or perform other malicious activity. Unlike the Wi-Fi network you have at home, a public Wi-Fi connection is open to the public and therefore exposes your computer to risks that you would not otherwise encounter on your home network.
Here are a few steps that you can take to protect your computer and information while using a public Wi-Fi connection:
Ensure your computer’s Firewall is enabled
- Your computer’s Firewall is its first line of defense, and it’s the mechanism that prevents other computers on the network from communicating with your computer. By enabling the Firewall, you are making the job of any would-be hacker much harder, and chances are they will move on to an easier victim.
Disable the Sharing option
- The sharing option is useful when you are looking to share files with family and friends, however on a public Wi-Fi connection it may allow strangers to access and view your files. Make sure sharing is disabled while you are on a public Wi-Fi connection so that you do not expose your sensitive information to others.
Keep your computer and Antivirus updated
- Make sure your computer’s operating system and applications are always up to date and that your anti-virus is updated and running properly. Having an updated system makes you a smaller target and ensures that any would-be hacker is not able to exploit a vulnerability on your system that would allow them to gain access to your computer.
Avoid accessing your online accounts
- Public Wi-Fi connections should be treated like the Wild West. It’s hard to tell just who is connected to the same public Wi-Fi network as you are and what their capabilities and intentions might be. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so try limiting the types of accounts that you access while connected to a public Wi-Fi hotspot. Accounts that should especially be avoided include online banking, personal webmail, and work related accounts. If you must access these account on a public Wi-Fi connection, make sure they are using SSL encryption and that your browser does not show any security warnings when you are connecting to them.
Consider using a VPN
- Perhaps the best way to secure your network connection when accessing the Internet from a public Wi-Fi hotspot is by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN connection provides an extra layer of security by encrypting all of the data that is transmitted by your computer. If anyone tries to snoop on your network connection, all they’ll see is a blob of encrypted data, which they will not be able to interpret.