Nowadays free public Wi-Fi is widely and readily available in airports, restaurants, coffee shops, libraries, public transport, hotel rooms and so on. Of course having free internet access can be an advantage to access online accounts, catch up on work, and check emails while on the go without using data or paying roaming charges while overseas. However, there are security risks. While the best way to protect your information is to avoid accessing sensitive information or performing sensitive transactions when connected to public Wi-Fi, there are additional measures you should be aware of.
The Vulnerability of Wi-Fi
The average free public Wi-Fi isn’t secure and just because you may need a password to log in, doesn’t mean your online activities are encrypted. Various reasons make public Wi-Fi susceptible to attack. One issue has to do with the encryption protocol used by some wireless networks. Another reason has to do with the possibility of joining a rogue Wi-Fi hotspot.
Some wireless networks may use older standards for encryption which can cause security problems. Wireless Encryption Protocol, or WEP; one of the first encryption schemes for wireless networking devices; it was weak and easily susceptible to being hacked. Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) was intended to replace WEP as the standard for wireless networking devices but it too was found to have weaknesses. Given their flaws, users are especially at risk when connected to a wireless network that uses these encryption protocols.
Creating a Wi-Fi shield
As a precaution, you should not engage in any sort of sensitive web browsing, like accessing your bank account or entering payment details when connected to public Wi-Fi. Here are some good measurements you can consider:
- Never use public Wi-Fi networks to access sensitive information.
- If you need to use public Wi-Fi to do work and if your company offers VPN access , use it. It creates a private network for you to shuttle information and adds an extra layer of security to your connection.
- Only browse websites that start with HTTPS and avoid websites that start with HTTP while on public Wi-Fi.
- You should also consider installing an extension like HTTPS-Everywhere to force all websites you visit to connect using HTTPS.
- Configure the wireless settings on your devices to not automatically connect to available Wi-Fi hotspots. This ensures that you do not unknowingly connect to public networks.
- Try using a privacy screen if you want to access sensitive information in public areas. These hackers are anywhere and are not afraid to use any means necessary to access your information.
- Treat and protect your mobile devices and tablets with the same precautions you would your laptop or desktop computer when you join a Wi-Fi network.
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