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Public Wi-Fi is everywhere. According to BBC News, there is one hotspot to 150 people worldwide. Of course, in some countries, the ratio is a lot smaller. In the United Kingdom, for instance, there is one hotspot for every 11 people. Indeed, it is easier to connect than ever before, whether you are just stopping to check your email or you want to settle in for a while and take care of some serious work.
No one denies that public Wi-Fi is convenient, but it doesn’t come without its drawbacks. Before you hop on that enticing public network, make sure you’ve taken steps to protect your data and your identity.
Don’t Connect Automatically
If your device connects to Wi-Fi spots automatically, it opens you up to dangers. An unsecured network is an invitation for bad guys to look at your browsing activity and gain access to sensitive information. Go into your device’s settings and look for an option that lets you automatically connect to open networks; turn this option off.
Find the Right Network
Walk through a busy metropolitan area, and you’ll see that your device has a long list of available Wi-Fi connections. While it is tempting to sign on to the network with the strongest signal, don’t. It might look like it comes from a legitimate business, but there is no way to be sure.
Hackers can set up hotspots with names like “Free Wi-Fi,” or the name might even sound like it comes from the business you’re in. This “man in the middle attack” exposes you. Ask a staff member at the business where you are for the name of their Wi-Fi network.
Update Before you Sign On
CNET points out one way that unwary Internet users have fallen victim to an upgrade trap: “There have been instances of travelers being caught off guard when connecting to public or hotel Wi-Fi networks when their device prompts them to update a software package. If accepted by the user, malware was installed on the machine.”
Do not install upgrades unless you are on a secure network that you trust.
Have a Mixture of Passwords
Using the same password for everything is convenient, and it might save you from brain overload, but it is also a danger. If a bad guy uses public Wi-Fi and obtains one of your passwords, it could mean he has all your passwords. Choose a different password for every account, and use a secure password manager to keep track of them.
Need extra motivation to mix up your passwords? According to Bloomberg Business, it only takes 10 minutes for a hacker to crack a six-character all-lowercase password that doesn’t include numbers or special characters.
Go Incognito With Hotspot Shield
A publicly visible IP address can help hackers track your online activities. Disguise your device with Hotspot Shield; it allows you to use a different server for your IP address, which gives you anonymity and security.
Hotspot Shield offers other benefits, as well. It comes with Wi-Fi security protocols, and it even serves as a bulwark against malware. The best part? It is low-cost and effective.
The FTC explains, “Encryption scrambles the information you send over the internet into a code so it’s not accessible to others. When you’re using wireless networks, it’s best to send personal information only if it’s encrypted — either by an encrypted website or a secure Wi-Fi network.”
Encrypted websites will have “HTTPS” as part of the URL. Even if you are on public Wi-Fi, you can reap the benefits of encryption on all websites. Some services use HTTPS encryption on all the information you send and receive over the Internet. Also be on the lookout for websites that offer emerging forms of encryption, such as end-to-end encryption, which means that only the sender and the recipient can view the information.
Turn Off Sharing
Some devices are set to automatically find other devices on a network and share information with them. This is fine when you’re at home on your own secure Wi-Fi, but if you are in public, you could be providing easy fodder for hackers. Go to your network settings to turn off sharing.
Public Wi-Fi is convenient, and sometimes it’s a real life-saver, but don’t sign on unless you are ready to handle the risks.