Pretty much everywhere you go – hotels, restaurants, cafes, even gyms – offers free WiFi access. This seems great, why should I have to pay for Internet access when it is offered for free so many places? The problem is many people do not realize how much they risk by using that free access or using a WiFi network that is not secured.
Any WiFi network that does not require a password to connect is unsecured. This means that anything you send over the network could be intercepted by pretty much anyone else. This includes passwords, log in information, and files you access; anything you do on the network is easily accessible to someone with even novice hacking skills. While being able to connect to someone’s Internet for free seems wonderful and great, you really are taking a risk.
First things first. If you are going to be connected to a public WiFi access point make sure you have taken the following precautions before connecting:
- Always password protect your computer or device you are using on the public network
- Be certain you have all operating systems up to date
- Have current, up-to-date anti-virus and anti-malware programs running
- Enable your firewall. (Windows has a built-in firewall, but a software-based firewall is even better)
- Turn off any file sharing options you have set up on your computer
There are other options to discuss when connecting to free WiFi networks. Avoid using a public network for things like accessing your bank account or even for online shopping. As noted above, it is fairly easy for someone up to no good to intercept your account number or credit card information. Also, it is best to only go to websites with https:// in front of them, as these sites use encryption to send data and information. This makes it more difficult (but not impossible!) for someone who tries to intercept the information to access the data.
Also be certain to ask someone who works there or who would be familiar with the network what the name of the network is at that location. Hackers will often create a “rogue network” that looks like a legitimate network. When users connect to the rogue network, the hacker has access to all the information sent over that network. Be certain you are on the real network for that location.
Finally, to be most secure, you can set up a personal VPN – a Virtual Private Network.  This allows for a much more secure connection in a public setting.
A VPN requires software to set it up, and generally a monthly or yearly charge, but once it is set up, it encrypts everything you do and provides the safest surfing in a public network. However, some VPN providers do track your usage, which is another thing to consider.