How to Stay Safe When Connected to Public WiFi Networks

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In today’s digital day and age, staying connected when you’re outside your home or office is a must for many people. Whether you go to your local coffee shop to complete some work or studying, or you simply want to stay connected to social media and the internet when on public transport, roaming networks and connecting to public WiFi is part of the daily norm for most.

However, as convenient as public WiFi networks are, they do come with their risks. Since they are not protected by a password, as private networks are, anyone can access public networks – those who are proficient in technology and coding may then be able to hack your devices and gain access to your private data.

In order to avoid this, we’ve listed some of our top tips on how you can keep yourself, your data and your private information safe when connecting to public WiFi networks. Read on below to see what protective measures you can take.

1 | Turn Off Sharing

At home, you may have sharing turned on on your laptop/computer to allow you to share files and printers or even to allow remote login from other computers on your network. When you have this turned on and you’re connected to a public network, that means anyone else who is also connected to that network will have access to all these shared files and printers on your device.

To stop this from happening, you’ll want to turn sharing off. In addition to this, you’ll also want to turn off ‘network discovery’, which allows your device to be found by others on the same network. To do this, follow these steps:

For Windows: Open Control Panel > click on Network and Internet > Click on Network and Sharing Centre > select option to ‘change advanced sharing options’ > switch ‘network discovery’ and ‘file and printer sharing’ to off.

For OS X: Go to System Preferences > click on Sharing and make sure all the boxes are unchecked (to turn off network discovery, you must turn on ‘stealth mode’ under your firewall’s advanced settings).

2 | Verify Networks

Hackers are very smart and will sometimes set up their own public networks in hopes that other people will connect to them. They may name this in ways that are misleading to trick people into thinking that they are safe.

For example, you may be able to access free WiFi when waiting at certain railway stations – Network Rail offer free station WiFi in all of their managed stations, with the network being visible as ‘#FreeStationWiFi’. A hacker, then, may create a public network with a similar name, such as ‘Station-WiFi’ or include the name of said station, which many people may understandably mistake as being the correct network to connect to.

This is why it’s important to verify that a network is safe and legitimate. Always ask an employee of the business/establishment that you are in if they know whether the WiFi being listed as theirs is legitimate and don’t connect to it if they say it’s not.

3 | Use a VPN

If you often surf the web whilst connected to public networks, then it may be worth you considering using a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN helps to keep you protected by encrypting your data traffic, acting as a protective barrier between the email provider or browser you’re on and the server you’re using, offering you online and email protection so that potential hackers will not be able to see or access your online activities and information.

In addition to this, a VPN can mask your IP address with one of their own IP addresses from another location, so you may physically be in one country, but (to others on the same network) you would be shown to be in a different one.

It is worth noting that not all VPNs offer the same levels of protection; often, free VPNs will offer less security than paid ones, however they may still be more beneficial than not using one at all.

4 | Enable Firewall

Firewalls are network security systems that monitor incoming and outgoing network traffic, preventing unauthorised access to a network. Though they don’t provide complete protection, they may also prevent unauthorised access from hackers trying to access your system over a public network as well as protect your device from data-based malware threats.

To enable your Firewall, follow these steps:

For Windows: Open Control Panel > click on Systems and Security > click on Windows Firewall.

For OS X: Open System Preferences > click on Security and Privacy > click on Firewall.

When you’ve located your firewall, ensure that it is turned on.

5 | Use HTTPS

When visiting pages on the web, the web browsers and servers communicate through a ‘language’ known as HTTP – essentially, this is the exchange of lots of plain text over the wireless network you’re connected to. However, someone with the right skills can have the ability to find this traffic relatively easily, which isn’t such a bad thing if you’re just typing in mundane search terms, but when you’re filling in personal information on a website or entering your password into your email account then this poses much more of a threat.

Thankfully, many websites use HTTPS (or SSL for applications that access the internet). This encrypts the data passed back and forth between your device and the server, so that it is hidden from anyone with bad intentions who is actively searching for such information.

So, when browsing the web, make sure that the link in the address bar of any websites that you visit start with ‘https’ and not just ‘http’. Many sites will automatically include this, however you can manually add the ‘s’ yourself if this is not the case – though if it disappears after doing so then you should leave the website. This isn’t so bad if you’re just browsing the news, for example, but for sensitive browsing (such as online banking etc.) then you should wait to do this at home – especially if a HTTPS connection is not supported.

6 | Forget Public Networks

After you have connected to a WiFi network once, then your device will remember this and automatically connect to it again in the future. When using private WiFi networks, this is, of course, extremely convenient, since it means you don’t have to enter the password each time you want to use it; however, with public networks this means you may automatically connect to them without intending or wishing to.

To stop this from happening, go into your device’s WiFi/network settings and either turn off automatic connection for specific public networks (so that your private networks remain unaffected by this) or manually select to ‘forget network’ once you have finished using it, which means you’d just have to sign back into it again should you wish to connect to it in the future.

Similarly, if you are out in public and don’t actually need to use the internet for anything, then you can simply just turn off your WiFi until you’re home. The longer you are connected to a network, the more likely it is that potential hackers will notice you and try digging around to find out what information they can from your device, even if your device has connected to said network without you knowing – so turning your WiFi off altogether ensures this doesn’t happen!

7 | Use Antivirus Software

Antivirus software is especially useful when using public WiFi and one of the better forms of protection that you can use, since it is able to detect malware trying to enter your system. You will receive an alert if it does detect any suspicious activity, malicious attacks or malware entering your system. It is important to ensure that you keep your antivirus software up to date, so that it is as proficient as possible at keeping your device secure.

Similar to antivirus software, you can also get specific email spam filters to keep your email protected. Not only does this act as a protective filter to stop spam from entering your inbox, but it can protect you from viruses and other phishing messages trying to enter your email inbox, also.

The great thing about this software, such as that offered by MailCleaner, is that it is not installed on individual devices, rather it is installed on servers, so that your email traffic is filtered constantly for maximum protection, no matter which device you are accessing it from!

MailCleaner Email Protection

If you are looking for reliable software that can help keep your emails protected 24/7, both when using private or public networks, then you need MailCleaner.

Our software uses special anti spam technology that filters through incoming emails to scan for potential viruses, spam and phishing messages, stopping these from entering your inbox and flagging them for your attention. Our software is ideal for organisations looking to protect staff’s mailboxes for the utmost security.

For more information, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today with your queries.