If you often use Wi-Fi when you are away from home, you must learn how to use public WiFi safely. Yes, public networks are great when you have to stay connected with the rest of the world. They are also super easy to use. But even password-protected networks can be dangerous. If you never changed your default security settings, chances are your devices are not properly protected from other users who are connected to the same public network. Stealing someone’s log-in data or simply spying on them is very easy if you use public WiFi. However, you can protect yourself by adjusting your settings or learning what not to do while connected to a public WiFi network.
1. Public vs shared
First of all, you must understand that there is a difference between a public WiFi connection and a shared one. Shared WiFi networks are password protected and they are somewhat safer than public ones. Everyone can gain access to a public network and sharing malware through it is way easier.
With that said, shared networks are still dangerous if a user who is also connected to it wants to gain access to your device and data. The best way to ensure your information is safe is to disconnect from a shared network as soon as you are done checking your mail, social media accounts, etc.
2. Turn your WiFi off if you are not using it
As we have previously mentioned, the easiest thing you can do is switch off your WiFi when you finish browsing the internet. This should be done on both your laptop and your mobile phone. If you are constantly connected, other users will have time to break into your device and get your data. The same goes for mobile phones because they tend to connect to available open networks automatically if their settings are not right. Cyber criminals sometimes create fake networks in public places; you don’t want to accidentally connect to them.
3. Don’t use public WiFi for shopping and banking
Banking and shopping should be done from your own home when you are on a secure network. However, if you need to do something related to your internet banking immediately and it simply cannot wait, disconnect from a public WiFi network and use a cellular connection instead. Your provider should have various internet packages available for you. Plus, cellular connections are more secure than a public WiFi spot and your data will not be revealed. Yes, you will pay a couple of bucks more once your cell phone bill arrives, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
4. Encryption is everything
Encryption might sound intimidating to you but it is quite easy to use. You already know that a large number of websites use HTTP connections and you’ve probably noticed that some pages such as Facebook use an HTTPS connection. HTTP connections share a lot of data via WiFi connection so they are fairly easy to break into. Other users will get access to your account easily if a website is not using HTTPS encryption.
If HTTPS is not automatic, some websites support manual type-in of encrypted connection. Simply add “S” and refresh the page. This is particularly useful for online banking. Even though the encrypted connections might not be 100 percent secure, they are fairly well protected. It is also important to mention that you can turn on the encryption in your Outlook settings if you use it as your e-mail client.
5. Your firewall should be up and running
Even though firewalls, with their constant warnings, might annoy some users, they are there for a reason. Almost all operating systems nowadays have a preinstalled firewall, and you should make the best of it. Go to your system settings and make sure the firewall is up and running. While you are at it, you can edit the programs and applications allowed to go through the firewall.
Also, avoid updating applications and programs while you are connected to a public WiFi network. Believe it or not, some users get unwanted malware with updates, so make sure you do this when you are connected to your trusty home network.
6. VPN or Virtual Private Network
If you want additional security, using a Virtual Private Network is an excellent option. Virtual Private Networks will automatically encrypt your data and use a separate network to transfer everything even though you are still connected to a public WiFi network. There are numerous VPNs out there and some of them do require a monthly or yearly fee. But don’t worry; there are plenty of free options as well.
One of the most popular VPN service providers is CyberGhost, which you can use for free. Of course, there is a paid version that offers faster data transfer, but if you simply want to try it out, go for a free version. CyberGhost is quite easy to install and you will be able to use it in no time.
7. Disconnect and forget
Once you are done using a public WiFi connection, you should disconnect and forget the network. This is the best way to prevent automatic reconnection while you are in range. You can do this easily on all operating systems as well as on your Android phone.
When it comes to Windows, you can uncheck the “Connect Automatically” option once you locate the pubic WiFi network to which you want to connect. iOS requires a bit more work – find Network options and uncheck the “Remember networks this computer has joined” option.
If you always keep your guard up when you use a public WiFi network, your data should be safe. Besides the basic things, such as disconnecting from a network and using encryption, it is important that you check your settings to ensure everything is working properly. Public WiFi networks are super convenient and useful, but always remember that they can be risky as well.