Using public wifi is a great way to get free internet access. But is public wifi safe? Using public wifi can help curb your phone bill while traveling as well as allow you to have a roaming office at your fingertips so you can be available for work issues if necessary. But there are definite drawbacks to using public wifi. Make sure you know the risks and how to avoid being a target before you connect.
What is Public Wifi?
Public wifi is a wireless connection that is available to the public usually for free.
What are the Advantages of Using Public Wifi?
Connecting to public wifi while traveling can help curb your data charges. By using public wifi you are not using the data plan you may have with your cell phone provider. It comes in handy if you need to check your email while on the road. Or you can use free wifi to make calls using any of the free calling applications such as Facebook, Viber, Whatsapp or Google Hangouts that you might have on your smartphone.
Where is Free Public Wifi Available?
Lots of businesses are now offering free wifi access to encourage customers to their business. Typical places that offer free wifi are airports, coffee shops, hospitals, libraries and bookstores, train stations, and buses, to name a few.
How do I connect to public wifi?
To connect to a wireless access point, simply open the network section of your laptop, phone or tablet. You should see a list of networks available to you. In many instances, you will see a message on your phone, laptop or tablet whenever you are in range of a wireless network.
What is a secure connection?
A secure wifi connection is a connection that will require you to enter a security key. When you see a network that you want to connect to, click Connect. You may be asked for a security key (also called access code). If the wifi access is free, a member of staff should be able to provide you with the security key. Once you have that, enter in the key and click Connect again and you will be connected.
How do I find a secure connection?
The more secure connections are connections you see in your network list that have a little lock icon which means that you need an access code to use them.
Airports are one of the most popular places to access free wifi. However, using free wifi at an airport can be troublesome. Chances are that there is A LOT of traffic on the network. This can make it difficult to surf the internet or even pull up your email because the network is so slow. Also, there’s no access code. It’s an open network so follow the precautions below to be safe.
Is Public Wifi Safe?
Depending on where you are, public wifi can be safe provided that you follow some very simple precautions.
How to use a public network safely
- If you are using a laptop, make sure your antivirus software is up to date.
- Block all attempts to connect to your computer by configuring your firewall to disallow unsolicited attempts to connect.
- Never turn off your firewall.
- If you are not in need of public wifi, turn off your wireless connection on your computer.
- Ignore any and all requests to update your software on a public wifi connection. These are most likely attempts to hack your computer by installing a piece of software.
- Turn off file sharing
- Avoid typing any confidential or financial information such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers, etc. when using a public network.
- If you have to type any financial details into a browser window, be sure that you see a padlock in the lower right hand corner of your screen or that the website address begins with HTTPS. The “S” means secure connection.
- Use strong passwords
The screenshot above shows the control panel for a Windows 7 laptop. To turn off file sharing, open your Control Panel and click on the Network and Sharing Center.
On the next screen in the left pane, click on Change Advanced Sharing Settings. This will bring you to the following screenshot.
Make sure that you click the radio button to turn off file and printer sharing as well as Turn off Public folder sharing.
Then click Save changes
What information is at risk?
Any and all information transmitted over a public network is at risk for being hijacked.
How does my information get intercepted or hijacked?
There are two ways that your information can fall into the wrong hands:
- You inadvertently connect to a network that is not safe; i.e., a connection that is set up to intercept your connection. These networks are designed to look like a safe network. Follow the precautions below to be sure.
- You download a piece of software designed to take over your computer.
The safest public wifi networks will require an access code
Here’s a great map that will allow you to see where public wifi is available at airports all around the world. Simply open the link on your phone and click on the airport where you need wifi. Brilliant!
Safety Precautions to Ensure You Connect Safely
Wherever you are that offers free wifi, double check the name of the network with someone on staff to be sure that you are making a secure connection. If someone wants to hijack your data, all they would have to do is set up an open wifi network. This would allow anyone to connect to it but all data transmitted over that network would be intercepted.
The safest public wifi networks will be networks that require you to have an access code. So if you have to ask yourself, “is public wifi safe?” be sure to follow the precautions listed above to ensure that you are connecting safely and for a trouble-free experience.
Have you ever had a problem with public wifi? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment and share your experience.