Life is much easier these days for those who dread the thought of not having instant access to the internet…or so it seems. Stranded in a strange airport for a few hours? Feel like getting out of the office and spending some time at the local coffee shop? Looking for a great place to eat lunch without missing out on what’s happening on Wall Street or in Washington?
No problem. Regardless of where you go, when you leave your home or office, you’re certain to find access to a Wi-Fi network. But if you fail to take precautions, you might be making it way too easy for hackers to steal valuable information from your laptop, tablet or smartphone.
If you hook into a public Wi-Fi network that doesn’t ask you for a password right away to connect, you probably should assume that hackers can see just about everything you send and receive. Even networks that require a password and user name are doing no more than restricting access; they aren’t creating a secure wireless connection.
If you must use a public Wi-Fi network, you should take some basic precautions that will make it more difficult for hackers to steal your personal and business information:
- You should avoid online banking or shopping until you are on a secure network at home or at the office.
- Don’t use sites that don’t require a password. If you can log onto these networks easily, so can people who have no business poking into your business.
- Stay away from websites that don’t have “HTTPS” in the address bar. These sites provide a secure connection using short sockets layer (SSL) security, which was developed to transmit private documents. Don’t forget to enable SSL secure connections for each application if you use software other than your web browser.
- A virtual private network (VPN), a secure connection between your computer and the Internet, can be a useful tool to increase security. There are several options and some you can download for free. Keep in mind, however, that the best VPNs are generally the most expensive.
Don’t Share Your Files
A simple way to make your Internet experience a little safer is to disable file sharing. If you are using Windows 7, you do this by:
- Clicking the start button;
- Typing “Network and Sharing Center” in the search box;
- Selecting “choose home group and sharing options,” then selecting the files and printers you don’t want to share.
Use Your Firewall
Enabling your firewall is another simple and effective way to thwart potential hackers when you aren’t on a secured network. This is the default setting with Windows 7 and Windows Vista. When Windows ask you what type of new network you are connecting to, select Public. Mac’s system 10.8, Mountain Lion, gives applications limited access to the system’s files and resources, which keeps them from crashing the system. Older Mac systems have similar built-in options that also help keep the computer secure.
Connecting to a public Wi-Fi network can be dangerous, but you can make your trip through cyberspace as safe as possible by following these few simple rules.
What are some protocols or programs you’ve found that help protect your Wi-Fi enabled systems in public places?
Norman Fong is Co-Founder of BuyVia, an online and iOS App smart shopping service that lists reputable products from top online stores, at the best price available. By downloading the BuyVia iOS App to their iPhone or iPad, consumers can be alerted to the best deals on the most popular products, anywhere and anytime.