Hotels, train stations, airports, pubs, restaurants, cafes and shops. Those are just some of the places you’ll find free wireless broadband. Generally speaking, it’s safe to use public hotspots wherever they are – as long as you follow a few Wi-Fi security basics.
When you connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot, your device starts a ‘conversation’ with the router, which may also be communicating with other people’s devices at the same time. And all of this is happening across the airwaves, within ‘earshot’ of anyone ‘eavesdropping’.
Unless you’re careful, someone within range of the network could potentially capture your personal data – usernames, passwords and so on – with the help of readily-available snooping software. To stop that from happening, follow these free Wi-Fi security dos and don’ts:
1. DO – look for secure Wi-Fi hotspots
Even if a hotspot is password-protected, it’s worth remembering there are different levels of data encryption. Wired equivalent privacy (WEP) was very common until a few years ago, but these days most Wi-Fi security is based on stronger Wi-Fi protected access (WPA) encryption. Before you connect to a new hotspot, check to make sure it uses WPA encryption. If not, any information you enter could be at risk.
2. DON’T – connect to a fake network
It’s one of the oldest tricks in the data theft handbook. Basically, if you’re in McDonald’s and there are two Wi-Fi hotspots called ‘Free McDonald’s Wi-Fi’ – or something along those lines – it’s possible one is a fake hotspot set up with the aim of capturing your personal data. Again, look for WPA protection and proceed with extreme caution if you see WEP or there’s no encryption at all.
3. DO – be careful with usernames and passwords
Using personal data – such as your phone number or bank details – when using a public Wi-Fi hotspot is generally safe, as long as you take basic precautions. Only enter details into websites and apps you know you can trust, and only if the hotspot is secure. When browsing the web, look for a padlock symbol or ‘https’ at the start of the website address. The ‘s’ is important as it tells you the site uses encryption to protect your personal data.
4. DON’T – let anyone ‘shoulder snoop’
Not all data thieves are as sophisticated as others – some are pure opportunists who prey on unsuspecting Wi-Fi users. Make sure nobody can see what you’re typing – especially if you’re entering usernames, passwords and bank or credit card details – in the same way you’d shield your pin at a cash machine.
5. DO – keep software on your device updated
Whatever device you connect to Wi-Fi with should always be kept up to date. So, whether it’s a laptop, smartphone or tablet, make sure you have the latest version of your web browser, anti-virus program and any apps you use to make sure you’re one step ahead of the bad guys.