How to Stay Safe When Using Public Wi-Fi

  • You risk to lose your sensitive data or pick up a virus or malware which can cause major issues in the software of your smartphone device or laptop.
  • You should turn off the automatic wireless connection.
  • Most VPN services require you to pay monthly fees, but there are also ones that are free.

If your type of Internet connection isn’t available everywhere, and you find yourself in need for one, don’t despair. Every major city usually has various locations that offer public Wi-Fi signal, which you can use either indefinitely or for a certain amount of time. However, did you know that using such public Wi-Fi represents a potential danger for data on your smartphone, tablet or laptop, and even for yourself?

The dangers of using a public Wi-Fi

Whether this public Wi-Fi comes from a local café, restaurant, enterprise, or municipality, you have to be careful when using it. Otherwise, you risk to lose your sensitive data or pick up a virus or malware which can cause major issues in the software of your smartphone device or laptop.

They also may utilize the so-called man-in-the-middle attack – this is a cyber-attack unique to public Wi-Fi, where the hackers position themselves between the public Wi-Fi user and the connection point and, consequently, intercept data. Resolving such software problems will often require going to the authorized laptop repairs service. If you want to avoid these issues, you should listen to the following advice:

Wi-Fi is a family of radio technologies commonly used for wireless local area networking (WLAN) of devices. It is based on the IEEE 802.11 family of standards. Wi‑Fi is a trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance, which restricts the use of the term Wi-Fi Certified to products that successfully complete interoperability certification testing. The Wi-Fi Alliance includes 3Com (now owned by HPE/Hewlett-Packard Enterprise), Aironet (now owned by Cisco), Harris Semiconductor (now owned by Intersil), Lucent (now owned by Nokia), Nokia and Symbol Technologies (now owned by Zebra Technologies).

Disable automatic wireless connections

By factory settings, your laptop or other devices automatically connect to any available Wi-Fi connection. It will also do the same for any network you were previously connected the next time it detects it. Generally, this practice makes sense – you wouldn’t wish to log on time and time again to your home network.

However, as we’ve said, networks in cafes and public locations are regularly unsecured. Hence, you should turn off the automatic wireless connection. To do this, you can either uncheck the option “Connect automatically” in the pop-up menu that appears when you connect to a Wi-Fi, or follow the procedure from here.

Verify the network

Hackers often create fake Wi-Fi hotspots in order to trick unsuspecting users into joining it. With this, they can receive access to your personal data and financial credentials, or other sensitive information that is crucial to you. They can also use a fake network to push malware on your device by sending fake system updates or warnings.

So, in order to surf safe on public Wi-Fi, you should read the network name with care and ask a worker of the business if the link is legitimate. You could also ask the offering IP address.

Turn off network sharing 

When you’re trying to connect to the public Internet, you should also consider turning off network sharing preferences. This will prevent other individuals on your network from accessing the files on your device. To turn off the file-sharing option, start by pressing the “Windows” button and S simultaneously. This will open the windows search bar.

From there, type “control panel”, open it, and find “Network and Sharing Center”.  Then, click “Change advanced sharing settings” and there select “Turn off file and printer sharing”. In the end, save your changes.

A virtual private network (VPN) extends a private network across a public network, and enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network. Applications running on a computing device, e.g., a laptop, desktop, smartphone, across a VPN may therefore benefit from the functionality, security, and management of the private network. Encryption is a common though not an inherent part of a VPN connection.

Use VPN

Virtual Private Network, VPN in short, routes your internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel to a server operated by the VPN company. That means that anyone who’s on the same Wi-Fi hotspot won’t be able to see your web traffic. This allows you, as a VPN user, to send and receive sensitive personal and business data.

In other words, it is like your devices are directly connected to the same private LAN (Local Area Network), even though, physically, they aren’t. Most VPN services require you to pay monthly fees, but there are also ones that are free. However, they’re free only for a certain amount of time or don’t include all available features.

Make sure your firewall is on

While keeping your firewall up won’t provide absolute cyber-protection, it should be a feature that is always on. A firewall is a software system that provides network security by filtering outgoing and incoming network traffic based on a set of user-defined rules. If an incoming packet of data is flagged by the filter, it is not allowed through. If you’ve disabled windows firewall, you can enable it again from the control panel.

Use an Antivirus

Remember to use antivirus software. There are a lot of antivirus apps out there, and you choose whichever one you prefer. It is only important to keep it updated all the time. Antivirus software, also known as anti-malware, is a computer app used to identify, prevent, and remove malware. Besides protecting you from malware and viruses, it will also deter malicious browser helper objects, browser hijackers, ransomware, adware, and spyware.

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Jack Kewell

Jack Kewell is writer, science editor, naturalist, entrepreneur. He is focused on writing and illustrating books. Also, he is a regular contributor on Smoothdecorator

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