How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Imagine you’re at a coffee shop that offers Wi-Fi to its customers. You’ve almost reached your data limit on your phone, but you really want to see the video your coworker just posted on Facebook of the office karaoke party you had to miss. Within seconds of typing in the coffee shop’s password, you are laughing your head off while other customers shoot you curious looks from across the room.

Although free Wi-Fi is a great thing, there are some things users should be cognizant of before tapping connect. Read on for some smart ways to stay safe when going online.

Act Like Someone is Watching

When on a communal Wi-Fi, avoid logging into anything that you wouldn’t want to give everyone in the room access to. Things like bank accounts, PayPal accounts, and other sensitive data should wait until you’re on a more secure network.

Make Good Choices

Opt for smaller, less trafficked networks when at all possible. For example, if you’re in a coffee shop that also happens to be in a bus station, connecting to the coffee shop’s Wi-Fi as opposed to the bus station could prove to be a bit more secure- not to mention likely a bit more responsive.

According to Life Hacker, the types of “semi-open” networks that many coffee shops and restaurants offer often have hidden SSIDs or post their passwords in the store. These are better than the completely open networks, and there are apps available that help identify them.

Don’t Give it Away

Before connecting to a communal network, make your device as secure as possible. This can be accomplished by turning off all file sharing options, enable any built-in firewalls, and keep internet-connected aps and services to a minimum.

When not in use, always turn off the Wi-Fi. Not only will it save battery life, but it could save you from falling prey to an online predator. One of the most common thefts that occur over a shared network is identity theft. According to Anidjar and Levine, there are varying degrees of theft and penalties can range from minor to severe, depending on the particular case.

When on a shared network, always make sure your antimalware and antivirus are running and up to date. In addition, privacy-protecting browser extensions will protect your privacy when navigating the internet.

Use https as often as possible. Although not fool-proof, using this extension does mean that the information sent and received by you is encrypted (especially for those of us working at custom software companies). For increased security, consider using a VPN when on an unfamiliar network. There are third-party VPN service providers available, or it is possible to roll your own VPN at home and connect to it when needed. Using a VPN encrypts the data sent between you and the service provider, prohibiting prying eyes on the same network from seeing what you are doing.