So, you’re waiting for a friend at your local coffee shop and there is some time to kill. That “Free Wi-Fi” sign near the half-and-half looks tempting, but you hesitate before logging in. Is it safe? Are hackers skulking around waiting for unsuspecting coffee drinkers like you to open the floodgates to your personal information?
Unfortunately, they are. But, if you can recognize the dangers and warning signs of suspect hotspots, you can use public Wi-Fi with confidence.
Dangers of Public Wi-Fi Hotspots
False Hotspots — hackers often set up false hotspots to capture login information, sensitive data, or access to your entire computer. Be sure you know the name of the hotspot, and to click on the correct name prior to connecting.
No Encryption — encryption hides personal data while a computer device sends information over the internet. Public Wi-Fi does not normally offer encryption, leaving your information vulnerable to hackers.
It’s important to be wary of online interactions, whether your communicating with a person, or with another computer or network supporting the hotspot to which you are connecting.
Be prepared by looking out for warning signs of suspect connections.
- The public Wi-Fi network allows you to log on without a password.
- The network has a generic sounding name such as “Free Public Wi-Fi.”
- You are asked for credit card information, which, according to the Better Business Bureau is likely a scammer trying to garner information.
Regrettably, seniors are a target for online predators. While businesses are investing in cyber insurance to help mitigate damage, there are several ways for you to protect yourself and your personal information while using free Wi-Fi in public spaces.
What Can You Do?
- Make sure you connect to the correct hotspot — verify the name with the establishment.
- Log out of sensitive sites such as mobile banking or medical charts before accessing a public network.
- Use extra secure two-factor authorization to help ensure you are the only one accessing your accounts. The site will email or text a code that you must enter to prove your identity and help keep you from being compromised.
- Enable firewalls and keep anti-virus programs up to date.
- Use a VPN. If you need to use public Wi-Fi make sure you only access public networks while having a Virtual Private Network service. This hides your device’s activity by routing it through another network not accessible to anyone using the public networks you connect to. VPNs aren’t foolproof, but when it comes to protecting your privacy and security, they are generally a good option.
- Only access sites with HTTPS, often highlighted in your browser with a lock icon. Whether you are connected to a public Wi-Fi, or on your private home network, generally avoid sites that do not use HTTPS encryption. HTTPS is another layer of encryption between the site and your device which makes it more difficult for anyone passively lurking for your web traffic to see it. Although not all sites use HTTPS, certain browser plugins, like HTTPS Everywhere, can force most websites to communicate with your device using HTTPS, which ensures that your information stays safe.
Public hotspots can be a wonderful resource, but your security should always take precedence when you are using them. A few simple precautions can help keep your data safe as you access the information you need while away from home.