The moment we enter a restaurant or coffee shop, the first thing we do is a hunt for the available public hotspots. As soon as we board a train we hop onto our Wi-Fi to connect the network in order to go live.
The urge to be live all the time may not cause us anything expensive economically, but have you ever wondered about the long-term risks we eventually suffer for the sake of going live on a free cost.
On a bad note, the free Wi-Fi network that cost you no penny will cause you highly expensive risk of privacy and security on a long-term basis. Do we ignore to give our second thought on whether the network we are connecting to free Wi-Fi is really legitimate? Is it fully secured with no risk and bumps?
Without much of thinking and being cautious, we provide our personal details and information to access the free networks available at railways, restaurants and all public areas offering free Wi-Fi service. We think we just scooped off the terms and conditions of the provider, but we forget it comes at a cost of leaving up our personal identity vulnerable.
Here are some points to keep in mind before using free public Wi-Fi. Exercise this and enjoy the luxuries!
- Authenticity- A must be practiced
Strictly connect to only those Wi-Fi hotspots, which are legitimately authenticated. Always ask the service providers for the correct and genuine ‘network name’ and ‘password’.
The second thing after fetching the precise network information is to check if the Wi-Fi comes with a protected access. To ensure the protection level, check for the existence of WPA and WPA2 password standards.
The acronym may seem a bit buzz but these are the security protocols that ensure secure access. If these security acronyms don’t exist, you are at a risk of connecting to a highly unencrypted and loose network. One must be vigilant before accessing Wi-Fi.
Thirdly, pay a careful attention to the provided legal network name- as they may appear potentially decisive hotspots that resemble far or less to the official network names. Connecting to these will leave you at a highly vulnerable risk of insecurity and spamming.
- Protect Yourself
Never carry the online banking sessions or online shopping or booking or any transactions that require you to enter your personal sensitive information, on the free Wi-Fi networks. Even if the Wi-Fi networks seem to be encrypted.
Your very question reading this would be – online banking is secured as it is encrypted, right?
Here, the major hurdle to this is the ‘public Wi-Fi network’. Like the Wi-Fi network we use at home, where the network traffic is fully encrypted between the devices we use and the wifi router. So, apart from our home devices the other devices that are not within our passphrase, has no idea of what pages we are surfing and what information we are sharing. So, the network is securely encrypted with our own passphrase.
On the other hand, in opposition; the public Wi-Fi hotspots itself is malicious as it’s a big open network with complicatedly connected devices in a wide range like no. of laptops, desktops, tablets, phones and almost every device on the wide network is open to it.
All the transactions and surfing going on is almost visible to every other device connected to the network. In every device, the unencrypted network traffic can clearly notice what web pages are being visited, what information is being shared like data, files, photos, videos and much more. At the same time, the devices in the networks are also authorized in knowing which encrypted website the other device is accessed to. So, if you are working on your bank website, the device spying will catch it.
For example, Firesheep- an easy-to-use tool helps in snooping onto everyone’s browsing session and spamming them.
- Don’t forget to Logout
Never stay logged into websites and accounts whenever on public Wi-Fis.
Remember you are offering a risk loop for yourself by ignoring to log out of the stuff. Don’t fall a prey to exposing yourself by staying signed in to your personal online accounts permanently. After you are done with each surfing or accessing log out the session as soon as done.
Clearing your cookies and history after logging out is a good sign of cautiousness.
- HTTP – A Risk Handler
HTTP- Hyper Text Transfer Protocol is one of the best tools offered by network engineers. HTTP ensures that you are connecting to an encrypted website whenever available.
‘HTTPS’ is an added advantage. HTTPS is the secured version of HTTP where ‘S’ stands for ‘secure’. HTTPS often comes into picture when using/ working on official sites of organizations such as banks and online money transfer transactions.
The HTTPS protocol ensures that the data is fully encrypted and shared only within the browser and the website server. This assures a secured process of accessing information that is highly sensitive. Thereby, eradicating the risk of spoofing, by a third person.
So, never forget to use HTTP and HTTPS while using public Wi-Fis. It can also be automatically used. Browsers come with an option in settings that states, “Always Use HTTP”. Enable this option on the websites where you need to enter personal credentials. This encrypts and protects the information that the sender sends to the site.
- Using VPN is bliss
Connecting to open public Wi-Fi and surfing the website and passing your personal credentials is similar to opening yourself to live risk and anonymity. For the ones who are worried about the personal privacy and online security- VPN comes into rescue.
VPN acronym of Virtual Private Network is a secure tunnel between two or more devices used to protect private web traffic from snooping, interference and censorship as stated by ExpressVPN.
ExpressVPN is one of the VPN service providers.
VPN offers us a privacy and security by creating our very own private network tunnel.
VPN encrypts our network traffic into our personal leased network. Thereby, protecting our privacy.
VPN hides our IP address; this restricts hackers from entering the network or reaching the device.
- No sharing while on public Wi-Fi’s
Turn off sharing strictly.
One can avail this aspect by simply turning the sharing option off from the System Preferences or Control panel, each depends on the corresponding OS.
You can also do this by choosing “Public” option, the very first time you connect to an unsecured Wi-Fi network.
- Disabling or Turning off the Wi-Fi’s
The Wi-Fi hardware that is mounted on your device keeps working as long as it is turned OFF. So the Wi-Fi network constantly keeps transmitting data over the network, even when you are not actively working on the network.
There is a constant risk of hacking and spamming as far as the Wi-Fi is kept ON. It’s always a good turn to switch off the Wi-Fi whenever you are not using it. For instance, you have finished downloading a movie and now want to enjoy watching it; Wi-Fi has done its work and no longer needed.
This would be an added advantage on the battery life of the device.
Other things that can be practiced are:
- Always think before you connect to free Wi-Fis.
- Using a firewall.
- Using a 2-factor authentication for all accounts.
- Installing antivirus and anti-phishing software.
- Keeping the settings up-to-date, so the networks are not always saved on your devices.
Eventually, be careful with every step you take when on free public Wi-Fis. Though carrying on the bank transactions and personal credentials on cellular data of a device is always the best option.