Look around any coffee shop, hotel lobby or airport lounge and you’ll see people working online, checking email or any one of a number of different tasks on their notebook, tablet or smartphone. It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security – everyone seems to be taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi. But there are a few things you should do to keep your information and files secure.
First, be an informed consumer and understand what type of public network you are using. Unsecured networks won’t ask you for log-in credentials or any type of password. An unsecured ad-hoc network (a network made up of devices that connect to each other rather than connect to a router) is the least secure because the source that originated the hot spot can link and possibly access whatever is on your device. Unsecured networks that utilize a traditional access point might seem less problematic, but you are still putting blind faith in a network and its security system with no real understanding of the risks involved. There are some basic steps you can take to protect your devices from hackers.
- If you normally share files, printers or even music within your own home network, make sure you disable sharing before you use a public Wi-Fi network. Leaving the settings open is an invitation to cyber crooks – it’s like leaving your home with the door wide open.
- If you use public Wi-Fi often, invest in a subscription to a virtual private network. For a monthly fee, this will allow you to route your communications through a secure network when you are out in public. You retain the convenience and portability of public Wi-Fi with the safeguards of a private, secure network.
- Use two-step authentication whenever possible. It might be tempting to go with the simpler, faster choice, but resist the easy option. If your email, online services and other websites offer a two-step process, it will prevent cyber thieves who could have ferreted out your initial password via a public network from logging in to your account. Most two-step verifications involve a password but also require you to input a special code, which is sent to your email or smartphone, to unlock access to your account.
- Be alert. If you are in a café, cinema, museum or business, don’t click on what appears to be the official network for the organization. Verify the network name with the business owner or employees. In the same vein, don’t let your devices automatically select and connect to Wi-Fi networks. Check your smart phone or tablet to make sure the automatic feature is turned off.
- Be a smart consumer and be aware of your surroundings. Wait until you know you are on a private secure network before doing online banking, shopping and other functions that might expose your account numbers, credit card data or login passwords. Use all the security features on your portable devices. Almost all the smartphones, tablets or other portable devices will have some sort of antivirus software and firewalls built into them.