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How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi

Posted March 11th, 2016

free public wi-fiEveryone enjoys free, public Wi-Fi. And why wouldn’t you? Not only do you get to save on data, but you also get to surf the web at faster speeds. Still, even with all the great things public Wi-Fi allows you to do, it’s important to remember to take extra precautions when using it.

Below are some tips to help you stay safe when using public Wi-Fi.


Make Sure You’re Connected to the Right Network

Before you connect to a network, make sure you verify the name of the network with the staff of whatever establishment you’re visiting. You wouldn’t want to end up connecting to some random open network.

For Windows users, make sure you turn off file sharing and mark the Wi-Fi connection as a public network. To do this, go to Control Panel>Network and Sharing Center>Change Advanced Sharing Settings. Under the Public heading, turn off file sharing.

You should also have your Firewall turned on when connecting to a public network. You can find the Firewall settings in Control Panel>Windows Firewall.

For Mac users, go to your System Preferences>Sharing. Once here, untick the checkbox next to File Sharing. You can also turn on the Firewall by going to System Preferences>Security & Privacy. Then click the Firewall tab.


Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Using a virtual private network (VPN) is one of the best ways to keep yourself protected while browsing on a public network. VPNs encrypt traffic between your device and the VPN server, making it much more difficult for a would-be intruder to seize your data.

If you don’t have a VPN service through your employer, you can use one yourself. PC Mag put together a nice list of VPN services that you can check out.


Check for HTTPS

HTTPS is a protocol for secure communication over a computer network. To make sure that the website you are on is using HTTPS, simply look at the address bar and see if there is a green lock icon followed by “https,” also in green.

HTTPS iconThere is an extension you can install on your browser called HTTPS Everywhere that makes your browser use HTTPS.


Be Careful When Making Updates

It’s a good idea to keep your apps, programs, and operating system up to date. However, when you do make these updates make sure you’re on a trusted home or work network. Downloading updates while on a public Wi-Fi network can potentially open you up to malware attacks.


Enable Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication is becoming more commonplace. Big-names services that currently support it include: Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, PayPal, Snapchat, Microsoft, and Dropbox.

Each service has its own way of doing two-factor authentication. Some use your phone number to send you a text message that contains a verification code that you must enter in addition to your password in order to log into your account. What this does is provide you with an extra layer of protection so that if someone manages to attain your password, they won’t be able to log into your account.

two factor authenticationATM cards are a good example of two-factor authentication. First you insert your card, then you enter your PIN. You need both factors to gain access to your account.


Forget the Network Once You’re Finished

After you’re done with your browsing session, make sure you log out of all the accounts you had signed into. Then, tell your device to forget the network you were just using. Doing this will prevent your device from automatically connecting to the network if you fall back into its range.

Windows users can do this by going to Control Panel>Network and Sharing Center and then clicking the network name. Click on Wireless Properties and then uncheck “Connect automatically when this network is in range.”

For Mac users, go to System Preferences>Network and under the Wi-Fi section click Advanced. Then uncheck “Remember networks this computer has joined.” You can also selectively remove networks by clicking on the name and pressing the minus button underneath.


Be Careful with What You Do on Public Wi-Fi Networks

The last thing to keep in mind while using a public network is to be careful with what you do and the sites you visit while you’re on them. You should probably save your online banking session for when you get home, and you might want to hold off on sending sensitive data until you can connect to a secure network.

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