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How to Stay Secure on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Public Wi-Fi is super handy. It’s a brilliant tool that allows you to respond to emails, browse the internet and catch up on work whilst out and about. In fact, a recent survey found that over half of smartphone users (and around 70% of those who own tablets) regularly use the free Wi-Fi that is offered at bars, coffee shops, train and bus stations, and other public places.

Written by Courtney Farrow

April 2018

Working in a coffee shop is harmless, right?

However, it’s important to be cautious whilst connected to a hotspot. In general, public Wi-Fi is not very secure because it can be easily intercepted by hackers who could use your personal data for criminal or fraudulent activity.

Logging on before understanding the facts could mean that you are at increased risk of having your sensitive information stolen.

We’ve put together a mini guide on how you can stay safe when using public Wi-Fi.

Be savvy.

Staying safe online is not all about fancy software and IT hacks; a lot of it is about having a cautious attitude and applying some common sense.

Question everything.

Before logging in to a network, double-check with a member of staff to see whether you’ve got the right network. Someone could have easily set up an access point that appears to be legitimate – like “Free-Wi-Fi” – when, in reality, it is a bogus network set up by a malicious user.

Stay up to date.

Applications and software regularly update in order to protect users from the latest threats and malware. Ensure that your browser and any internet-connected device you own is frequently updated to shield yourself from malicious attacks and activity.

It should go without saying that you should never update software using a shared Wi-Fi connection. Always make sure that you are at home or at work, hooked up to a trusted access point.

Forget about it.

When you’ve finished browsing, be sure to log out or click the “Forget Network” button beside your current connection. This means that your device won’t automatically connect without your knowledge if you are in range at a later date, which reduces the risk of you becoming a victim of criminal activity.

Protect yourself.

On top of this, you should take action to protect your device in case the connection is intercepted by a stranger.

Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Creating a VPN is one of the best ways to keep your browsing session hidden away from prying eyes. This nifty bit of technology scrambles the traffic between your device and the VPN server, making it a lot more difficult for the intruder to get in.

There are so many VPN services available, some of them free and some of them paid for. It is worth talking to a professional to advise you on which software is the best for you.

Invest in a quality antivirus and firewall.

Another way to protect yourself against a cyber attack is to purchase a quality anti-malware and security solution.

A decent antivirus should provide a comprehensive level of protection against a wider range of malicious activity, such as viruses, malware, phishing scams and spyware.

Meanwhile, a firewall acts as a physical barrier against suspicious activity.

Enable two-factor authentication.

Additionally, to protect online accounts from getting hacked, you should enable two-factor authentication on sites, such as Twitter, Gmail and Facebook. This means that, even if you log in and your details are breached by a criminal, they will need the extra verification code that is sent to a separate device via text or email to access your account.

Avoid.

When using shared Wi-Fi hotspots, there are definitely some things that you should steer clear of doing.

Don’t log in to certain sites.

Specific types of website that require personal information and passwords should only be used when absolutely necessary. For example, don’t sign in to your online banking application when using a public access point, and try to refrain from logging in to social media platforms, too.

Stay away from public hotspots.

In an ideal world, every network we join would be private. If you can, try to give public Wi-Fi a wide berth and use trusted alternatives, such as mobile data.

Another approach would be to only connect to trusted access points. A good way of telling whether the venue takes security seriously is if they have a hidden Wi-Fi code that you have to ask staff members for; even better if they change it regularly.


If you would like to know more about staying safe when using a public network, get in touch with a member of the Singularitee team.

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