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Public Wi-Fi Networks are now commonplace throughout the high street and other public areas, such as Retail Parks, Hotels and Airports. And it’s not just Coffee shops that offer free Wireless Connectivity – public Wi-Fi access is now provided by local Banks and Building Societies, Public Houses and even Super Markets.
No matter where you are, you’re only a couple of clicks away from a free internet connection. No wonder so many mobile phone Companies are practically giving away their data!
The risks of using a Public Wi-Fi connection.
Getting all this free Internet access is great, but there are a number of risks associated with using a Public Wi-Fi Network. Because of their ‘relaxed’ levels of authentication, Public Wireless Networks are inherently less secure than Business Grade Wireless Networks, which means they are more prone to being compromised by Hackers who are looking for opportunities to gain access to personal information.
What’s the worst a Hacker can do?
If the Public Wi-Fi Network you are using is compromised by a Hacker, then the said Hacker can potentially intercept and access any traffic that is being transmitted between your device and the Wireless Access point.
If you were purchasing items online via a Public Wi-Fi, your personally identifiable information, your credit card details and your security credentials could ALL be intercepted and recorded by the Hacker, allowing them to gain access to your personal accounts and use your payment details online.
That’s not all.
Depending on how well (or not so well) a Public Wi-Fi spot and been setup and configured, Hackers can also use Public Wireless Networks to spread Viruses and Malware. There are many ways this can be achieved, including planting infected software on connected devices, or even hacking the Wireless device itself!
Don’t become an easy target.
Hackers typically look for ‘low hanging fruit’ i.e. people that are careless with their Internet usage and don’t take any steps to avoid their data being compromised. There’s nothing wrong with using Public Wi-Fi Networks, if you are sensible and remain vigilant at all times.
Here’s 12 helpful Public WiFi safety tips.
To help keep your data safe, we’ve created a list of tips that will help you avoid becoming a victim of Cybercrime when using a Public Wireless Network. This list includes tips for Smartphone, laptop and Tablet users.
1. Make sure your device is up-to-date.
Keep your devices Operating System (OS) version up-to-date at all times. Updating your OS isn’t just about gaining access to new features and services – many software updates include critical security updates and patches that will fix Security vulnerabilities that you are not aware of.
2. Make sure that you use Anti-virus/Malware protection.
Regardless of the type of mobile device you are using, you should always use some form of Anti-virus/Malware protection. Make sure that your Anti-virus/Malware protection is active and is up-to-date with the latest definitions. This advice isn’t just for Laptops users! Mobile devices are also prone to Virus and Malware attacks!
3. Use Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) where possible.
(See our Blog post – What is 2FA?). Many Apps and Services now offer Two-factor Authentication as an additional layer of Information Security. In addition, 2FA provides you with the reassurance that you’ve accessed a genuine service and not a clever spoof. HOWEVER, please take into consideration our next point, which is…
4. Don’t access sites or services that contain personal, sensitive or financial information.
Try to avoid accessing any sites or apps that require authentication to access your information because ALL of this information can be intercepted. For example, don’t access your online Banking accounts, Personal and Company Email accounts, or any accounts and Apps that store your Credit Card information. This tip is related to the next one, which is…
5. Don’t shop online using Public Wi-Fi.
Shopping online involves submitting personally identifiable and financial information in order to make an online transaction. Because of this, we HIGHLY recommend avoiding making ANY transactions on a public Wi-Fi Network, regardless of whether the Network is secure or unsecure, OR IF YOU ARE USING 2fa. Remember, ANY information being transferred over the internet can potentially be intercepted by hackers if the network has been compromised.
6. Use a VPN Connection.
A VPN Connection (Virtual Private Network) is by far the best way to ensure that your device and your data is secure when using a Public Wi-Fi Network. A VPN connection encrypts any data that travels to and from your device via a ‘private tunnel’ securing your information from other users that are using the same public network. If you are going to use a VPN connection, then we advise purchasing a reputable VPN client instead of using a free VPN solution (contact us if you need any advice!)
7. Stick to Trusted Networks and be wary of Spoof Wireless Networks!
Be sure to be vigilant and stick to well-known ‘Trusted’ Networks that you are already familiar with, such as Networks from reputable retailers, Coffee shops etc. Be vigilant when it comes to connection names. If you notice two networks with similar names, then don’t be afraid to ask a member of staff to confirm what Public Wi-Fi is the Legitimate Network.
Be VERY suspicious if you are being asked to provide a large amount of personal information when signing up to use a Public Wi-Fi service. Most public wireless services will only ask for a name and Email address at most (sometimes a mobile number). If you are being asked for more information, then don’t proceed unless you are 100% sure the connection is legitimate.
8. Use a Firewall and make sure it is activated.
(See our Blog post – What is a Firewall and why do you need one?)
A Firewall is one of the most effective forms of protection against a Cyber Attack. A Firewall will monitor all incoming and outgoing traffic activity on your device and decide whether to allow or block this traffic based on the Firewall Configuration rules that have been applied. If you have Firewall Software on your device, then make sure that it is activated.
9. Disable Wireless connectivity when you’re finished.
Although it sounds a bit extreme, disabling your Wi-fi connection after you’ve finished browsing is a highly effective way of stopping any hacking attempt in its tracks. Any attempt to access your device or infect your device with Malware will be thwarted by disconnecting your machine from the Network.
NOTE – If you use a Mac, then you can use the handy ‘disconnect’ feature in the Wireless menu. This avoids turning off Wireless connectivity altogether.
10. Turn off Bluetooth Discovery.
In addition, it is also good practice to turn off your Bluetooth discovery when not in use. Leaving your Bluetooth Connectivity on can also present a security risk because a good hacker will be able to search for open Bluetooth signals in order to access vulnerable devices.
11. Turn off file sharing.
File sharing should only be active when using your device on a secure network. When using a Public Wi-fi network, it is advisable to turn off any Fire sharing features that enable your files and folders to be shared with other devices. If you leave file sharing turned on, then you are potentially handing another point of entry for a hacker to install Malware on your device.
12. Only use secure websites.
Secure websites use something called a Secure Socket Layer Certificate, which is also known as SSL. An SSL Certificate provides an additional layer of security by encrypting the data that is submitted on a website when it is sent to the Web Server.
A secure Website can be identified by its http: suffix. If the URL starts with HTTPS:// then the Website is secure. If the URL starts with HTTP:// then it isn’t using an SSL certificate.
Googles Chrome web browser will also notify you if the website you are visiting is insecure.
NO Public Wi-Fi connection will always be safe and there are always Public Wifi Security Risks. It is essential to remain vigilant at all times, regardless of whether you’re using an unsecure Public Wi-Fi service that requires no authentication, or a secure Public Wi-fi that requires registration and authentication.
The above tips cannot guarantee the security of your information, but they should help mitigate the risk of you becoming a victim of Cybercrime.