Public Wi-Fi networks may be convenient, but are they safe? The short answer to that question is no, and you should never assume that your privacy is protected or your data is secure when you are connected to a publically available wireless network.
So does that lack of built-in security mean you should simply turn off Wi-Fi on your devices and resist the temptation to jump online at the airport or local coffee shop? The answer to that question is also no; if you take some common sense security precautions, you should be able to enjoy the convenience of public Wi-Fi without all the risks.
Some of these steps can be taken before you leave home, while others can be enacted on the fly. Here are ten smart things you can do to protect yourself and your data from the dangers of public Wi-Fi networks. The first five tips outline things you can do beforehand, while the remaining five steps are things you can do while on the go.
1. Turn on two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication requires an extra step, like a code sent to your smartphone or a message sent to a secondary email address. Turning on this security feature can help protect you from public Wi-Fi dangers.
2. Download a quality VPN. A VPN, or virtual private network, sets up a buffer between your device and the outside world. Working on public Wi-Fi is far safer with a VPN, so download a good one before you leave home.
3. Turn on your firewall. A software firewall can also enhance the safety of your web surfing, whether you are connected from home or via public Wi-Fi. Check your firewall settings before you leave home to make sure you are protected.
4. Keep your devices up to date. Public Wi-Fi can often be insecure, but not all devices are equally at risk. If you want to reduce the dangers, start by making sure all your devices are up to date, with security software, malware detection, and other essentials.
5. Turn off automatic Wi-Fi connection. It is hard to determine the validity of a given Wi-Fi connection, and allowing your devices to automatically connect is risky. Check your devices and make sure automatic Wi-Fi connection is turned off.
6. Verify the network name. Hackers may try to spoof legitimate Wi-Fi networks, hoping that victims will simply assume their network is the real thing. Before you connect, check with the business to verify the name of their real Wi-Fi network.
7. Avoid sensitive websites. Public Wi-Fi is not the place to do your banking or check your brokerage accounts. No matter how must you trust the connection, it is best to avoid entering sensitive information.
8. Check for the https. The “s” in https is a mark of security, and it is important to check the website address carefully. If the site is not secure, log off right away.
9. Watch for shoulder surfers. Hackers are not the only danger when you log on in a public place. Shoulder surfers may try to capture passwords as you enter them or decipher PIN codes as you type. Always be aware of your surroundings, and do be afraid to move if you feel unsafe.
10. Double-check your Wi-Fi connection. If your device loses its connection, it may try to connect to another available source. Check your settings to make sure you are still connected to a legitimate Wi-Fi network.
If you want to protect yourself and your data, you need to take some proactive steps. You cannot simply assume that your data is safe; you need to ensure the security of your data. The ten tips listed above can help you stay safer on public Wi-Fi networks, both before and after you leave home.
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