Getting Internet access in public areas has never been easier. No matter if you are a business traveler, a student, an employee, etc., you can receive emails at the airport, prepare your report in a cafe, or scroll through your social media feed in the MRT stations. These hotspots provide extreme convenience for everyone but along with everything else, this convenience comes with a price. And this price is that using a public Wifi may not be as safe as you think.
Why using a public Wifi may put your private data at risk?
Now, in most cases of free public wifi, you are not required to enter a password to get connected. In other cases, you might just be required to sign up and enter your email and/or phone number to get access to the WiFi. For instance, in malls or hotels! This is because these public WiFi are designed to provide easy Internet access to its users. Remember, easy, but not safe.
And without these authentication steps, a snooper sharing the same network with you may easily intrude on your privacy. By positioning himself between a device and the connection point, a hacker can intercept the information being transmitted from you, including emails, online credentials, and even your bank account information. What’s worse, if you do not turn off the file-sharing feature, a hacker can further exploit it to distribute malware to your PC.
So how do you protect yourself while using a public network? Here are some precautions you can take:
1. Do not connect to unknown Wifi networks
Looking for Wifi connection in a public place has almost become a reflex for many people. I mean, free WiFi = less phone data usage am I right? But hackers may take advantage of this by setting up their own wireless network with names like ‘Free Wifi’ or ‘Public Wifi’ to trick their preys. Hence, avoid connecting to any suspicious network unless you can verify it’s provided by a trustworthy source.
2. Use HTTPS, and not HTTP
When browsing a website, check the URL address first. If the site’s name begins with ‘HTTPS’, that means your data will travel encypted and cannot be read. Using ‘HTTP’ on the other hand means your information will be sent without any encryption, putting your privacy at risk. It is also strongly recommended to enable the ‘Always Use HTTPS’ option in your browsing settings.
In fact, Google Chrome lets you know when the site you’re visiting uses an unencrypted HTTP connection rather than an encrypted HTTPS encryption by labeling the former “Not Secure.” Heed that warning, especially on public Wi-Fi. When you browse over HTTPS, people on the same Wi-Fi network as you can’t snoop on the data that travels between you and the server of the website you’re connecting to. Over HTTP? It’s relatively easy for them to watch what you’re doing.
3. Turn your Wifi off when not using it
If you are doing work in Excel or Word that requires no Internet connection, just turn your Wifi off. Even if you are not connected to the web, leaving your Wifi on still results in minor data transmission from your Wifi hardware to other networks. Turning Wifi off not only lowers the chance of your privacy being compromised, but also saves your battery life, as it no longer consumes power to look for networks nearby.
4. Do not send sensitive information under a public connection
If it’s not an urgent case, there is no need to take the risk of being hacked by using online banking and sending out personal credentials under a public network. If you must do so, then make sure the site you are browsing is secured before conducting any transaction.
5. Limit AirDrop and File Sharing
When you’re on a public network around strangers, you’ll want to cut off the features that enable frictionless file sharing on your devices. On a PC, that means going to Network and Sharing Center, then Change advanced sharing settings, then Turn off file and printer sharing. For Macs, go to System Preferences, then Sharing, and unselect everything. Then head to Finder, click on AirDrop, and select Allow me to be discovered by: No One. For iOS, just find AirDrop in the Control Center and turn it off. And voila! No one nearby can grab your files, or send you one you don’t want.
6. Use a VPN
By far the most effective trick for staying safe on public Wi-Fi is to install a VPN or Virtual Private Network client on your devices. It encrypts data traveling to and from your laptop or phone, and hooks you up to a secure server—essentially making it harder for other people on the network, or whoever is operating the network, to see what you’re doing or grab your details.
7. Install an antivirus for further protection
Even if you have taken all these precautions, you may still encounter issues from time to time. In addition to the above tips, you should also install an antivirus software on your PC. A well-functioning Antivirus can offer in-time protection whenever there are suspicious activities that could threat your computer.
Finally, the key point to keep you safe and private is never let your guard down. Remember that when you are online in public, there will be chances for snoopers to eavesdrop on your Internet communications. Therefore, while using a public hotspot, always remain alert to stay protected.
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