How to Stay Safe When Using Public Wi-Fi

Coming across free public Wi-Fi evokes great emotions since it means you can work, keep in touch and surf the web on the go. For this reason, public Wi-Fi is a popular option for millions of users, making it a prime hunting ground for hackers, spoofers and scammers.

Public Wi-Fi is far less secure than, say, your home or work network. However, most average netizens don’t know this. Hackers, on the other side, are – unfortunately – smarter and always on the lookout for security holes they can exploit to commit identity theft, steal money or tarnish your reputation.

Best would be to avoid public Wi-Fi entirely. However, avoiding public Wi-Fi is impractical in some instances, and it is these instances that you need to prepare for beforehand. Otherwise, you risk walking right into traps laid by the unscrupulous type.

In today’s post, we highlight a couple of ways to stay safe when using public Wi-Fi. Read on to learn how you can keep hackers at bay and your information secure.

5 Incredible Ways of Staying Safe When Using Public Wi-Fi

It doesn’t matter if choose a virtual private network (VPN), firewalls or strong passwords, your security on the web depends entirely on you, whether you use a home or public Wi-Fi. You have to stay vigilant at all times because the bad guys don’t rest.

Somewhere in the world right this minute, someone is losing the fight to a hacker. That’s according to the 13 Alarming Cyber Security Facts & Stats article by Cybint, which states that there is a hacker attack every 39 seconds! Someone might be trying to hack you right this minute, more so if you’re on public Wi-Fi.

That being said, we’ve outlined the following tips in no particular order, but they are all important in bolstering your security when accessing internet over public Wi-Fi.

Update Your System & Software

There is a valid reason why developers push update after update. They don’t do it for fun or to make money off you (most updates are free to begin with). One of the main reasons developers update software is security.

I have seen a lot of people lose valuable information, websites and businesses simply because they weren’t bothered to hit the update button. Updates usually come with security patches for known vulnerabilities – the same vulnerabilities hackers need to bring you down.

Whether you use a public Wi-Fi or not, keep your operating system updated to the latest version at all times. The same goes for all software on your computer. If your antivirus or antimalware program is outdated for instance, there’s nothing to stop a hacker from wreaking havoc on your computer.

Educate Yourself & Use Common Sense

The thread of online attacks is real and going nowhere, which means you need to learn and stay proactive as far as protecting yourself goes.

Many hackers take advantage of the fact that many people don’t know a thing about cyber security. Well, the attackers don’t need a rocket scientist to decipher that if you don’t know how hackers attack; you can’t avoid or defend yourself against any form of breach.

Constantly read cyber security posts and keep up with the latest trends. The more information you have about cyber attacks and data breaches, the better your chances of staying safe. I say this because some hacks or scams are so easy to detect and avoid it would be a shame to fall victim.

For instance, a hacker could launch a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack in a restaurant or coffee shop and you’d never know. MITM attacks are common in public places since the Wi-Fi networks are usually not secured, or the router has some vulnerability, such as a weak password.

Another thing, an attacker might setup a Wi-Fi network with a legitimate sounding name, especially near familiar businesses. It is prudent to get the Wi-Fi SSID and access details from staff members instead of trying to use a free public network that goes by “StarbucksXYZ,” for instance.

Another thing, I don’t expect you to carry out sensitive transactions using public Wi-Fi. Think for a moment the damage an attacker can cause if they stole your online banking or credit card details. Avoid sending sensitive information, banking and shopping when using public Wi-Fi.

Common sense further dictates that it is disastrous to use the same password across multiple websites. Why would you even do that? Perhaps you can’t keep track of different passwords, but with many tools such as LastPass, why would you risk everything by using the same password everywhere?

On top of that, get in the habit of changing all of your passwords regularly to get rid of attackers who might have already gained access to your accounts in the past.

Visit Secure Websites

Today, it is remarkably easy to spot an unsafe website from a mile away, especially with a browser such as Chrome. Chrome marks every website that uses HTTP (as opposed to HTTPS) as “Not secure.”

On the other hand, the browser adds a padlock sign at the beginning of the URL for every website that uses HTTPS, meaning it is also easy to spot a secure website.

Certainly, not all websites that use HTTP come from attackers. However, avoid entering sensitive information such as login details, credit card numbers and so on websites that do not use HTTPS, whether you’re using a public Wi-Fi network or not.

HTTPS is the secured version of HTTP. The technology basically encrypts all the information you enter into a website, which means attackers cannot read your information even if they intercept it. If you enter sensitive information on HTTP websites especially on public Wi-Fi, you’re making it too easy for attackers.

Other than visiting HTTPS websites where applicable, you should avoid nasty websites (such as piracy websites) that are notorious for spreading malware and viruses. If you’re not careful, you might end up installing malware from an attacker on the same public Wi-Fi you’re using.

Enable Your Firewalls

As far as staying safe on the web goes, most people often forget about firewalls, although they are an effective method of keeping the bad guys out, and your data safe. Considering how easy it is to activate a firewall on your computer, it’s a shame many people leave this area unattended until it’s too late.

For Windows users, you can easily activate your firewall by navigating to Control Panel -> System and Security -> Windows Firewall. For Mac users, enable your firewall by navigating to System Preferences -> Security & Privacy -> Firewall.

Never ever deactivate your firewalls because that’s the first line of defense you have against intrusive attacks on your devices.

Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Your best bet of staying safe when using public Wi-Fi is a VPN. A virtual private network simply encrypts your information and tunnels it via an intermediary server. In layman’s language, a virtual private network hides your online activity from everyone, including hackers.

A VPN makes you an anonymous web surfer by masking your real IP with a different IP address. You can even appear to browse the web from Sidney, Australia, while you’re comfortably sipping a latte in New York.

There are a couple of great VPN providers out there, including the likes of NordVPN and PureVPN among others.

Other Security Tips

As far as staying safe when using public Wi-Fi goes, we want to equip you with all the best security tips. Below, find a couple more tips.

  • Use 2-Factor Authentication to keep attackers out of your web accounts, even if they steal your login information over a public Wi-Fi network. Popular websites such as Facebook and Google have this feature in place, so you have no excuse
  • Turn off automatic network connection to keep your devices from connecting to open networks within range. If your device connects to an attacker’s fictitious public Wi-Fi without your knowledge, you’ve lost the first part of the battle (or the whole war depending on the magnitude of the attack)
  • In vein with the outgoing point, get in the habit of disabling file sharing when using public Wi-Fi. Disabling file sharing will keep bad guys from stealing your files, or storing malware on your devices
  • Turn off Bluetooth when you don’t need it
  • Use a formidable antivirus program at all times (I love and recommend ESET NOD32)
  • And finally, avoid unsecured public Wi-Fi networks entirely. You can use your smartphone as a Wi-Fi hotspot or carry your own mobile Wi-Fi modem/MiFi.

Conclusion

We practically live online nowadays, which means it is of utmost importance to stay safe regardless of the sites you visit. This I say because people can still scam you on legitimate websites no matter the type of Wi-Fi network you are using.

As far as public Wi-Fi networks are concerned, use the above tips to ensure you don’t lose valuable data, online identity and money to attackers. How do you stay safe on public Wi-Fi networks? Let us know in the comment section.

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