Precautions to Take When Using Public Wi-Fi

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Public Wi-Fi, also known as hotspots, can seem like an oasis when you don’t have a cellular connection to the Internet. Those public Wi-Fi connections, although usually free, can come at a high price. Use these precautions to keep yourself and your computer safe when using public Wi-Fi.

Turn Off Sharing

Sharing at home is great. It lets you access media files on other computers, send documents to your computer, and get online through your personal “hotspots”. Sharing in public, however, is a recipe for disaster.

If you have sharing enabled on your computer, then other people on the public network could browse your files. They could even find sensitive information that you don’t want them to have.

When you access a public Wi-Fi network, tell Windows where you are. It will automatically turn off sharing.

If you own a Mac, go to Systems Preferences > Sharing to make sure all of the boxes are unchecked.

Use a VPN

A VPN (virtual private network) will give you privacy even when you use a public network.

VPNs encrypt the information that you send through the network, making it very difficult for anyone eavesdropping on your computer to decipher the information. This can mean the difference between checking your mail without worry and giving someone free reign to your email contacts, bank info, and passwords.

Only Use HTTPS Sites

HTTPS sites give you an added layer of security by encrypting the information that you submit and receive through them. It’s almost like having a tiny VPN that only works on specific websites.

It helps to learn more about how HTTPS sites help prevent security breaches. They aren’t foolproof, but they are effective. As long as you know the basics, you can protect yourself from anyone who wants to steal your information over a public Wi-Fi network.

Know What Network You Want to Use

Using a public network is risky. You always need to take precautions when using them.

In some cases, though, hackers will set up “fake” networks in public spaces. These networks go direct to their hardware, giving them the opportunity to browse your information freely.

Always know the name of the network that you plan to use. If you see a fake network that resembles the one you want to use, avoid it and report it to the real network administrator. Unfortunately, this could be a barista who doesn’t know much about computers, but it’s better to tell someone than just let it happen.

Enable Your Firewall

Image via Flickr by Uncaino

Hopefully you’re already using a firewall at home. You never know who’s trying to access your network from a neighboring house or a car parked outside you home. It’s doubly important to enable your firewall while using public Wi-Fi.

If you use a Windows OS, go to Control Panel to find Windows Firewall. If you have a Mac, the firewall should activate automatically.

Has someone ever stolen information from you while using a public network? What will you do differently in the future to protect yourself?

Article by Emily Green.

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