First, you may ask what is public Wi-Fi? It is free Internet access and available in popular places you probably frequent often, such as malls, coffee shops, hotels, restaurants, etc. While it may seem harmless to log on to their free Wi-Fi to check your bank account, read emails, look at Facebook, Instagram or other social media or even catch up on the news, STOP and think twice before you do it again.
While these type of venues may believe they are providing you a valuable service, the problem is there are many risks associated with using public Wi-Fi. Chances are the security on these networks is negligent, which leaves you vulnerable to hackers stealing your personal information. For example, on an episode of the Today show, Jeff Rossen showed how a cybersecurity expert mimicked a hotel’s Wi-Fi by creating a fake network and could steal personal information. You can see how easy it was to obtain someone’s username/password, charge card number/security code and more.
Public Wi-Fi can be a real threat, so here are ways you can protect yourself if and when you use it.
- Do not connect if there are multiple SSIDs (Service Set Identifier). An SSID is a network name. If there is more than one being broadcasted, it is not the norm.
- Purposely log on to the public Wi-Fi with the wrong password. If you can get on anyway, it means someone is monitoring you and the network is not secure.
- Use your own mobile hotspot or tether to your smartphone when you connect to the internet to log into accounts that hold or require sensitive or personal information, like your bank or healthcare accounts, e-commerce sites, etc. Once you’re done with your confidential tasks, feel free to hop back on Wi-Fi.
- Disable auto-connect to networks.
- Turn off Wi-Fi if you are not using it.
- Install anti-virus software on your mobile devices, and keep them updated. You may want to consider:
- Disable file sharing and AirDrop Options.
- Use HTTPS everywhere you can.
- Use a VPN to make sure your public Wi-Fi connections are made private.
Remember these tips whenever you are out and about and using public Wi-Fi, especially when you are traveling. Unfortunately, there are way too many online videos and tool kits that anyone willing to take the time and spend a few bucks can watch, learn and become adept in hacking public Wi-Fi networks. Don’t be a victim.