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The Do’s & Don’ts of Public Wi-Fi

Free public Wi-Fi! Something offered free in this world! But wait. If it seems too good to be true, usually it is too good to be true. These amenities are available for your convenience, but unfortunately, cybercriminals also love to use free Wi-Fi and public charging stations to access and steal your sensitive information. The key is to use caution and be smart. Never assume you’re safe.  

You need to understand the type of public Wi-Fi you are using. Is it unsecured? Secured? Encrypted?

Unsecured networks are networks that you can connect to without a password or authorization. A lot of times they won’t have protections built into the network to prevent hackers. These types of networks lack cybersecurity measures that keep your information safe. You might as well leave your wallet, SSN, and credit cards lying out in the middle of Central Park. Without proper security, you’re exposing yourself.

Secured networks usually require a password or a legal term agreement, or want the user to create an account to sign in. Secured networks with these login steps also have some added security features that have been put in place by the owner of the network. These networks, which can be found in restaurants, hotels, airports, etc.  offer secure browsing on public Wi-Fi to their guests. However, even if they are secured, you are still vulnerable and need to be cautious when using public Wi-Fi.

Networks with Encryption. When information is encrypted, it’s scrambled into a code so others can’t get it. This is becoming more popular and has made public Wi-Fi somewhat safer. You can only be sure that a network uses effective encryption if it asks you to provide a WPA or WPA2 password. If you aren’t sure, it’s best to assume the network is not secure.

The Don’ts of Public Wi-Fi

Do NOT Access Bank Information

It’s possible for all public Wi-Fi networks to be hacked. Some of the  hacks can be simple spyware, which allows hackers to see what you’re doing on your computer, or something more malicious, like ransomware. With you accessing your bank information, this can give them an easy entry into your finances. A lot of times the user is completely unaware that it’s taking place.

Do NOT Shop Online

Entering in credit card information or your address can make it easy access for hackers to steal that information.

Do NOT Use the Same Username/Password

Use 2-factor authentication whenever possible. If using the same login/password for many of your accounts, once a hacker gains access to one account, they’ve got access to the other accounts.

Do NOT Stay Signed into Accounts

When you’ve finished using a site, log out.  

Do NOT Use Public Charging Stations

Cybercriminals can load malware onto public USB chargers. Instead, bring a spare device charger or battery with you for emergencies.

The Do’s of Public Wi-Fi

Turn Off Automatic Connectivity

Most wireless devices will have an automatic connect option. When you enter an establishment, you will automatically connect to their Wi-Fi network, and some of those may be unsecured Wi-Fi networks. While you’re going about your business, you will instantly be exposed without you being aware. It’s also important to make sure the auto connectivity is off when you’re traveling or going to unfamiliar places.

Turn Off Bluetooth

Leaving your Bluetooth feature always on can leave you vulnerable. Hackers can communicate with your device by locking into your open Bluetooth signal. This will allow them to gain access to your information.

Use a Secure Website

Many secure sites have the ability to encrypt your information—even if the network doesn’t. If the website address begins with “https,” that tells you that your information is encrypted before it’s sent. The “s” stands for “secure.” Look for the “https” or the lock symbol in the address bar on every page you visit. If you use an unsecured Wi-Fi network to log in to an unencrypted website, strangers using that network can hijack your account and steal personal information. If that happens, an imposter could use your e-mail or social networking account to pretend to be you and scam people you care about. Or a hacker could use your password from one website to try to log in to a different account and access your personal or financial information.

Be Smart

The bottom line is, just be smart and cautious. People are constantly attempting to access your data. They can also use your e-mail or social network account to pretend to be you and scam your friends and family. Free public Wi-Fi is a way that makes it easy for them. Before connecting to free public Wi-Fi, ask yourself if you really need the internet, and if you do, be very cautious of what information you access. Lastly, it’s usually much safer if you can use your cell data instead of free public Wi-Fi.

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