HomeTechHacker: Precautions You Should Take When Using Public Wi-Fi

Sunday, November 27, 2022

By Marlon Buchanan

Most businesses that directly serve consumers, like hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, and retail shops, provide Wi-Fi for their customers. 

This means that even if you are using a device that doesn’t have a cellular connection, like many tablets and laptops, you’re almost always close to a place that can give you access to the Internet via public Wi-Fi. 

While this is a great convenience, it's not without risk. The convenience and number of people using public Wi-Fi also make it an attractive target for cybercriminals.

Although most public Wi-Fi hotspots are safe to use you should still protect yourself by taking the follow precautions:

Use a VPN

I recommended using a virtual private network (VPN) to limit how much your activity is tracked on the Internet. A VPN can also protect you on public Wi-Fi by providing an extra layer of encryption on all of your activities. When using a VPN, hackers trying to employ a man-in-the-middle attack will have to decrypt the information they’ve stolen in order to use it, which takes more time, resources, and know-how than most hackers are able to spend.

Turn off file sharing services

It’s unlikely that you want to share files with anyone else connected to the same public Wi-Fi as you, so you should turn off sharing. Leaving sharing on enables hackers to exploit your system with malware. You can turn off sharing in the control panel of both MacOS and Windows, and you can even set sharing to automatically turn off when connecting to specific networks.

Stick to HTTPS sites

HTTPS is the secure and encrypted version of HTTP. It can protect you from man-in-the-middle attacks. However, make sure to pay attention to any warning your browser may give, even about HTTPS sites. Some hackers will attempt to give you a fake/invalid SSL certificate in order to make an HTTPS site look trusted. Your browser should detect this, but you have to pay attention to the warning.

Turn your Wi-Fi off

If you aren’t actively using your Wi-Fi to connect to a network, go ahead and turn it off. Wi-Fi devices still transmit and receive some information even when they are not connected to a network. Although the chances are small, it’s possible for a cybercriminal to exploit your Wi-Fi even when you aren’t connected to a network. As a bonus, you’ll have better battery life!

If your mobile device has antivirus software, turn it on

This is good general advice, but it’s especially important if you connect to public Wi-Fi. Antivirus software can detect common pieces of malware on your system.

Double-check that you are connecting to the right Wi-Fi network

Hackers will sometimes use an access point with a legitimate-sounding Wi-Fi network name to trick users into connecting to it. Then they can proceed to monitor everything you do over the connection and place malware on your device. Double-check the Wi-Fi name and credentials with the business providing the public Wi-Fi.

Using public Wi-Fi is convenient, but not without risks. If you take the precautions above you’ll significantly reduce the chances of anything nefarious occurring.

Marlon Buchanan
Marlon Buchanan is a best-selling author,
IT Director, and founder of HomeTechHacker.com, a website with free resources to help you make the most of your home technology. 

You can find these and additional tips about cybersecurity best practices in his book The Personal Cybersecurity Manual: How Anyone Can Protect Themselves from Fraud, Identity Theft, and Other Cybercrimes.

Previous columns can be found HERE


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