To say getting online is simple anymore is quite the understatement. From Starbucks to Home Depot, many businesses are including free Wi-Fi access at their location. And it’s not just national chains that are doing so to boost their image. Even ‘mom-and-pop’ restaurants and retailers are making it easy to become connected to the Internet via smartphone or laptop. Airports, shopping malls and more are all included in a vastly growing trend. This is a huge draw for many consumers and a wise idea on the part of the business.
The only downside? These networks are often unstable and are a huge draw for hackers and others who want to gain your personal information.
But as a user, how should you protect yourself on public Wi-Fi networks? After all, you have control over home and business connections, but not public ones. Here are a few simple tips for information security when using a public network.
Basic Security Settings
It’s important to remember that most public Wi-Fi hotspot locations don’t require password protection. If the cashier or waiter had to give out the password a million times each day, it would be an absolute waste of everyone’s time. Thus, these connections are open to everyone in the vicinity of the router. Good, bad, ugly or hacker.
The first step in basic user safety on a public Wi-Fi network is to turn off any data sharing options. Next, you’ll want to make sure that your firewall is working correctly. Third, it’s important to use SSL encrypted websites whenever possible. (Hint: These are generally websites that start with https instead of http.) If all of that sounded like Greek to you, there are plenty of tutorials on the web about how to figure it out. Also, it’s possible to set up these settings so that each time you connect to a public Wi-Fi network they’re activated.
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Another option to protect yourself when using a public Wi-Fi network is to setup a Virtual Private Network. These VPNs are very simple to use and work as a buffer between your information and the information available to others. This process works to route your public connection through a secure private one, thus ensuring your data and usage remains private. Those who complete tons of sensitive work at places like Starbucks or McDonalds while traveling would be wise to consider setting up a Virtual Private Network connection. VPNs aren’t expensive either, usually ranging from $5 to $15 per month, which is worth the added peace of mind.
Another way VPNs are important is that they protect against add-ons, such as the Firefox option, Firesheep. Firesheep is a free add-on that allows amateur users in basic public networks to easily find who is sharing their web browsing information. It also allows the user to tap into any logged in website that another might be viewing, such as Facebook or Twitter. (If you have ever wondered how a friend of family member’s social media account could be “hijacked” by another person, this is generally how.)
Sometimes, though, it’s absolutely impossible to protect yourself from a breach in data security, especially if you’re frequently on public access networks. Thus, there are several data recovery options available for your email and more. It’s always best to use backups, but if those fail, you can look into recovery programs to get your data back.
Accessing public Wi-Fi doesn’t have to be scary. Just put a few precautions in place and you’ll be ready to get online anywhere! If the worst happens and you do lose data, be sure that you’re ready with backups and a recovery plan in place.