Wi-Fi can be incredibly convenient and great for getting work done, posting pictures to social media, and generally staying connected while on vacation—but these public networks can also be a major security risk. Here’s what you really need to know about using free public wi-fi and how you can keep yourself safe.
Choose your network wisely. “Free Wi-Fi” hotspots can be extremely tempting when you’re traveling, but don’t let the word FREE cause you to be careless. For example, if you are in your hotel lobby be sure to verify the name of the network with staff or signage before connecting to the first “Free Wi-Fi” connection you see.
Connecting to an unknown Wi-Fi connection is an easy way for someone to intercept your data. Criminals use tactics like creating networks called “Free-Wi-Fi” or any other variation that includes a nearby venue name, to make you think it’s a legitimate source so they can steal your personal information. Don’t fall for it- take 3 minutes and verify the “Wi-Fi” network you’re supposed to be using.
Don't share your files with the world. As easy it sounds, most people have no clue when they are sharing their files with random strangers that are connected to the same Wi-Fi networks they are connected to. If you are connecting to Wi-Fi be sure to turn off file sharing and mark the Wi-Fi connection as a public network. You can find this option in the Control Panel > Network and Sharing Center > Change Advanced Sharing Settings. Under the Public heading, turn off the file sharing toggle.
Keep your passwords secure. This may be an obvious one, but you should be extremely cautious when using your passwords when connected to public Wi-Fi. Opt for sites that support, Two-factor authentication, which requires you to present multiple pieces of information (such as a code sent to your phone) to verify your identity. This way, even if someone does manage to crack your password while you’re on public Wi-Fi, you have an added layer of protection.
If you want to go the extra mile, try creating new passwords before and after your trip as an extra precaution. If you are worried about forgetting your passwords try using a password manager to make your life a little easier. Better safe than sorry, right?
Your personal information should be left personal. Paying your internet bill or doing a little cyber shopping, should not be on your list of things to do when using public Wi-Fi. Because public networks are inherently more exposed than the ones at your home or workplace, you do not want to risk any of your personal information. Think twice (or maybe even three times) about typing in usernames, credit card details or anything else that could be of use to someone else who might be scanning the same network.
Use Wi-Fi, for binge watching, flicking through the latest news, or going down another rabbit hole of knowledge on Wikipedia, but not for exchanging your personal information. Keep it personal.
Don't forget to forget the network. Once you’ve finished enjoying the luxuries of Free Wi-Fi, don’t forget to log off any services you were signed into. Then, tell your device to forget the network. This means that your PC won’t automatically connect again to the network if you’re in range.
To do this, you can uncheck the "Connect Automatically" checkbox next to the network name before you connect, or head to Control Panel > Network and Sharing Center and click on the network name. Click on "Wireless Properties" and then uncheck "Connect automatically when this network is in range."
No matter what steps you decide to take to stay secure when using public Wi-Fi networks. It’s best to leave your Internet banking sessions for when you’re able to connect via cellular data, or on a secure network. Don’t leave your browsing up to chance.