How to use a public Wi-Fi network safely

    Whether using your cell phone or laptop, there’s always a worry when you click ‘join’ on a public Wi-Fi network, but that need not always be the case. Follow our top tips for ensuring you are able to use these networks as risk-free as possible.

    1. Be careful about which network you join

    First of all, it’s vital that you check the name of the network. If it sounds unprofessional, the chances are that it is. Many stores, restaurants and other businesses offer the opportunity to join their networks and will freely advertise that fact. Pick one of these over an unknown one, but do make sure it’s the name of the actual Wi-Fi network for that business. To further cover yourself, ask a member of staff to give you the wireless network details (for example, the name and IP address) to verify that you are joining the correct one.

    2. Only use selected websites

    If you look at the beginning of a web address and see https, this means that the data you submit will be safe as the connection between the browser and the server is encrypted. The vast majority of browsers use a padlock symbol to make it even more obvious. However, this does not automatically make them safe as phishing sites can display the symbol legitimately.

    Even so, try to avoid using sites where you may need to input personal details, e.g. credit card information. It’s much safer to carry out purchases when you are on a more secure network.

    3. Ensure you have anti-virus software installed

    Make sure that all of the devices you use, whether on a public wireless network or not, have sufficient protection against potential cyber-attacks. Installing this is not enough on its own. Try to accept the invitation to update the software regularly. Before deciding which anti-virus software package to go with, read up on all the possibilities and choose the one, which will best suit your needs.

    4. Use a VPN

    A VPN (virtual private network) behaves like a sort of tunnel between whatever device you are using and the network you connect to. It allows you to use a network without risk of snooping or censorship. Furthermore, it can help you to access websites without revealing your actual location. Before choosing a VPN, make sure that you carry out your own research to allow you to decide which fulfils your criteria most closely.

    5. Choose your cell phone over laptop

    If you can use your cell phone effectively to carry out the task in hand, choose that option using your cell phone’s network instead, as it is much safer. There is still a small risk associated with this method, but much less so than with a laptop. This is recommended especially for occasions where you must input sensitive data e.g. mobile banking.

    6. Consider your location

    Snooping does not happen solely via people hacking your computer and stealing your data covertly. Think about how keen you are to cover your PIN when you are taking cash out from the machine. Exercise that same amount of caution when in a public place and providing personal details via your laptop or cell phone, as someone could be looking over your shoulder.

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