6 Ways to Stay Safe on Public WiFi
With the abundance of free WiFi now available, getting online while travelling has never been easier. With most people owning a device capable of accessing these networks, it’s important to remember that you’re not the only one connected, so protecting yourself from other malicious users is vital. To improve your own security, follow the tips below.
Set Network Location to Public
The first time you connect to a network, you’ll be asked whether it’s a Home, Work or Public network. Depending on your choice, a list of network settings will be configured to reflect your location. The Public option understandably has the tightest security settings (such as blocking File and Printing Sharing and also turning off HomeGroup) so it’s the obvious choice when connecting to a public network.
Turn off File and Folder Sharing
While a handy option to have on a home or work network, it’s not advisable to leave on while connected to a public network. Luckily, you can easily turn it off to ensure no one can access your data. To do so, go to the Control Panel, click on Network and Sharing and then on the left, click on Change advanced sharing settings. From there, you can turn off Network Discovery, File and Printer Sharing and Public Folder Sharing.
Turn on your Firewall
The main objective of a firewall is to control all incoming and outgoing traffic by analyzing the data packets and determining whether it should be allowed through or not. It’s a critical component in your computers defense system and no computer should be online without one. To ensure one is enabled on your system, open the Control Panel, click on System and Security and then Windows Firewall. From there, you have the option to turn it on and off. For Mac users, under System Preferences click on Security and then Firewall. A simple yet effective method to bump up your computers security.
Use SSL When Available
A website using the standard HTTP protocol transfers data in plain text. So if a user with the sufficient knowhow and harmful intent is connected to the same network, it’s possible for them to “sniff” out the traffic and see your private data.
For most websites this isn’t a problem, but if you’re connected to a website which transfers sensitive data (such as your email), it’s important to connect through a secure connection. Spotting a secure connection is as simple as looking at the address bar in your web browser. If you see https it’s secure. If there is no s at the end of http, it’s not secure and it’s possible that someone could see the data you’re transferring.
Some popular websites (such as Gmail and Facebook) have the option to turn on secure browsing which is highly recommended. There is even a few browser plug-ins such as HTTPS Everywhere which selects the secure option on a whole range of popular websites, so you know you’re secured.
If you’re using a desktop client such as Outlook or Mail to check your email, it’s important to change your account settings so they’re SSL encrypted. Doing so will prevent anyone with harmful intents from reading your emails and obtaining account information such as your username and password. If you’re unsure how to do this, contact your email provider.
The last thing you want when travelling is the headache of a security breach, so use SSL whenever possible.
Use a VPN Network
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a method used to provide an extra layer of security to both private and public networks. Think of it this way, if you wanted to browse a website securely but it didn’t provide an SSL connection as mentioned above, using a VPN will solve this problem as all data transferred over a VPN is encrypted. It’s a form of safe, secure and anonymous browsing.
There are many paid VPN networks such as HideMyAss, VyperVPN and StrongVPN which are generally on a monthly or yearly subscription model but there is also free one’s available too such as HotSpot Shield and OpenVPN. One of the major differences between free and paid VPNs is the infrastructure, which dictates the speed of the network. If you’re on a free VPN, chances are it’s going to be significantly slower than its paid counterparts. So if you’re like the majority of us and can’t stand slow loading pages, I’d opt for a paid VPN connection, for the good of your sanity.
Setting up your own VPN connection isn’t overly complicated as most offer a software package which makes connecting quick and easy. If they don’t provide any software, they should offer step-by-step instructions on getting connected.
This is one of the simplest steps but it’s also one of the most important steps. It’s imperative to make sure your computer is updated with the latest security fixes for your operating system. While you’re at it, update your virus and spyware definitions too.
It’s important to remember that when you’re on a public network, you’re not the only one using it. There are plenty of people out there ready to pounce on your unsecured data if the opportunity presents itself. So to help protect your valuable data from any unwanted intrusion, implement some (or all) of the tips above and stay secured when online.
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