4 Ways to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Written by on September 22, 2012 in Technology - No comments | Print this page

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It seems like more public Wi-Fi networks are available with each passing week.  The problem is a majority of these hotspots are not secure.  They are not encrypted and rarely password-protected.  Some have a firewall to protect users from online threats. However, this does nothing to provide protection from others connected to the same network.  Fortunately, there are a number of simple things anyone can do to stay safe whenever they are using public Wi-Fi hotspots.

1.  Turn Off All Sharing

The first thing everyone should do when they connect to a public hotspot is turn off all of their sharing options.  Along with sharing, printers and remote login information should be disabled as well.  When a user is on a public network, anything shareable can be accessed by anyone on the network – let alone a hacker or data snooper.  In Windows this is accomplished through the Control Panel and in Mac OS X it can be taking care of through the System Preferences.

2.  Set up a VPN Connection

VPN services allow users to route all of their activity through a secure, private network.  While this is done over the public Wi-Fi hotspot, the actual data stream is secure.  All of the data being sent and received from the user’s device is encrypted.  The level of encryption is determined by the VPN protocol being used.  Along with the benefit of encrypted data, a VPN also creates a tunnel which prevents malicious code from being injected into the data stream.  Only the endpoints of the VPN tunnel, which is the user’s device and VPN server, can add data packets to the data stream.

3.  Enable a Firewall

A majority of operating systems include a basic firewall which is easy to set up.  Users can also edit which applications are allowed access to the device.  There are two points to keep in mind when using a firewall.  First, it is beneficial but only a basic form of protection.  Second, it may interfere with a VPN connection.  To remedy this, quality VPN service providers include their own NAT firewall for users to take advantage of.  This provides them with the protection of a firewall without the potential VPN compatibility problems. Ideally, users take advantage of a local firewall as well as a firewall offered by the VPN provider.

4.  Only Use SSL Connections

Whenever possible, users should only access websites through SSL connections if they are not using a VPN.  HTTP website connections exchange a large amount of plaintext information.  This makes it easy for hackers and data snooper’s to gather a significant amount of information from anyone using a public Wi-Fi hotspot.  SSL connections are easy to identify because instead of HTTP the URL begins with HTTPS.  Unfortunately, most sites do not offer SSL encryption.  This includes search engines, social media sites, and many popular e-mail providers.

There will always be a certain level of risk associated with public Wi-Fi hotspots because they are an easy target for hackers and data snoopers.  In order to protect personal data, public Wi-Fi users must take proactive steps rather than relying on the hotspot provider.  The easiest way to significantly increase the level of protection on any mobile device is by turning off file sharing, utilizing a VPN connection, enabling a firewall, and using SSL connecti

This is a guest post.  Andrew Brown spends most of his day online, from online gaming to shopping. He is also a freelancer shares the latest technology news. His articles provide information on online security, privacy and freedom.

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