Public Wi-Fi can perhaps be considered one of the culminations of the path our technology is taking. It allows one to connect to the internet from a vast variety of devices and allow everyone to have the world’s information at their fingertips, all from wireless waves surrounding us and eventually connecting to wires that connect all computers and servers around the world. It is rather astonishing, the more you think about it.
There is, however, a problem when you are using public Wi-Fi. It is incredibly insecure and you are constantly at risk when you use it unprotected. Hackers are indeed out there looking for marks to make a profit from, and identity theft is the best way for them to do it. There is even a great likelihood that you don’t know how much of a risk you are at.
Here are some tips, facts, and suggestions that could help you protect your personal data when using the free Wi-Fi at the cafe you love to frequent.
Double Check Which Websites You Use
Not all websites are built alike. Many of them do not have the slightest bit of protection in terms of protecting user or customer data, and this means that your credit card information should you buy something will be that much more easily stolen. Look for websites that are secure, having an HTTPS tag on them or using other measures to protect you.
Also, you should consider what you use your laptop, smartphone, or tablet for when you are out and using public Wi-Fi. If you are just watching videos online or browsing your news website, you likely aren’t going to need to worry so much. If you are checking your e-mail (the way into almost all of your other accounts) or doing online shopping, you are going to want to be a little more cautious.
In fact, you should just simply never do online banking or large-scale financial transactions over public Wi-Fi, no matter how convenient you think it might be, It won’t be so convenient once you spend two days trying to get your identity back and cancelling fraudulent charges.
Your Traffic and Data Can Be Watched
Were you were aware that there are devices and programs that can allow a hacker, for a minor cost (especially compared to the possible take), to take in all of the incoming and outgoing traffic over an unprotected wireless network? It wouldn’t be obvious, they would likely just look like another computer user just like you. Yet they’ll mine this data you are sending them, and possibly take your account info, leaving you with financial loss, a great deal of time wasted, and a massive headache.
In addition, the person or company in control of the Wi-Fi has a greater ability to monitor your traffic, so you will likely want to make sure that you are trusting the company or individual that is providing the free Wi-Fi. You can probably trust government-run networks to not steal your identity, although they might want to collect your information for data-collection purposes. Shopkeepers of a desperate or shady nature, on the other hand, might not be so trustworthy. Try to use your intuition and don’t be too conservative with your phone’s data plan should you not feel safe.
Read the Terms and Conditions
You’ve probably encountered some public networks you can connect to that will have a page asking you to agree to their terms for using the network. You likely don’t even skim it to make sure it isn’t insane. You should read it because you might not always like what you find. In them, you might find authorizations for data-mining, limitations on what sites you can visit, time limits until you have to pay a fee, and other measures you won’t find so friendly.
Also, you should not be more assured in your security on a network just because it has one of those pages. A page like not does not necessarily mean any added real security, it just means that there are terms and conditions for hackers to ignore when they try to steal your data. Maybe some of those networks have better encryption or other protections, but it would be purely coincidental.
You Might Be Automatically Connecting
A recently developed software on many smartphones coming out now is the ability for the smartphone to automatically connect to any Wi-Fi network that will let it in, presumably to try and save data on the phone plan. This might even bypass terms and conditions pages or other blockades to the network.
This is a very dangerous thing. As mentioned before, not all public networks can be trusted, and there is more data going in and out of your phone than you think if you like to get automatic email updates on your phone or if you are logged into your social media accounts. You might become the victim of data collection without even checking your phone once, just passing through the streets of your hometown. You don’t want this to happen, and thus should double check the settings on your devices.
You Can Use a VPN to Protect Yourself
Some of the problems mentioned above are not unsolvable. You will want to consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to protect yourself from outside intrusion when you are using a public network. What it will basically do is create a tunnel of sorts that encrypts the data you send to an outside and secure server which will connect to the internet for you, and then send you what you are after.
With this, no one will be able to see what you are sending or receiving. At best, they’ll be able to see that you are using a VPN, and often a VPN will have additional defensive measures that will repel an invader or cut off a compromised connection. This is a service that would in fact allow you to perform otherwise risky transactions with relative safety.
In addition, there are added benefits such as being able to get around regional restrictions and government censorship. Thus, if you are using airport Wi-Fi frequently, you should probably invest in a VPN immediately.
I hope these tips help you stay safe and protect your personal data when travelling or just walking around in town, and that your use of the technology that surrounds us gives you even greater joy than before.