Mobile technologies have made it possible to check email, bank or shop online, and stay connected from just about anywhere. When you’re traveling, catching up on social media at your favorite cafe, or searching for information on the go, public Wi-Fi has become convenient enough to support you wherever you are.
These “free” networks can come with a hidden cost, however.
Free public Wi-Fi has become fertile ground for cybercriminals looking to take advantage of unsecured devices.
Understanding the dangers of public networks — and how to avoid them — is the first step toward protecting yourself and your family from today’s Wi-Fi threats. To help you get the most out of your mobile devices without risking your digital security, follow these five dos and don’ts for using public Wi-Fi networks safely:
1. DON’T log onto a network that isn’t secure.
Cybercriminals can use sniffing tools to access and view all your online activity while you are browsing on unsecured public networks.
The software monitors, or sniffs, network traffic in search of usernames and passwords you may be typing, or other personally identifiable information to steal. This information can then be used to hijack your personal accounts, or to transmit viruses to your mobile device or laptop.
You may think a public Wi-Fi network that requires a password will protect your connection, but there can be little distinction between password protected free Wi-Fi and a free Wi-Fi network that doesn’t require a password. After all, no one using the network is protected if everyone on the network is given the same password.
2. DON’T use public Wi-Fi to access webpages containing sensitive information.
Never access your online banking or credit card company websites from a public wireless network. The same goes for any websites that contain information about your health records or your Social Security number. It could only take seconds for malicious software to access and view what you are doing online. These types of websites contain everything hackers need to steal critical pieces of information that could be used for identity theft. This kind of attack can cause long-term damage that can take months or years to fully recover from.
3. DO be aware of malicious hotspots by carefully checking the network name before logging on.
Hackers use malicious hotspots to intentionally confuse you by creating a SSID that looks very similar to the legitimate network you think you’re logging onto. Pay close attention to the spelling of the network name provided by the business offering free access.
4. DO consider using an alternate browser reserved specifically for use on public Wi-Fi networks.
Using a browser that’s reserved for use on public Wi-Fi networks is a great way to limit your exposure to attacks. We often keep sensitive information stored in our everyday browsers, like our saved payment accounts, emails, and shipping addresses for autofill forms that make online shopping fast and convenient. By using a different browser that has no stored information, you may be able to ward off any potential attacks.
5. DO use a virtual private network service, which provides the ultimate level of security and protection from cyberattacks on public Wi-Fi networks.
A virtual private network (VPN) is one of the smartest ways to protect your online privacy.
A VPN creates an encrypted data tunnel that allows you to connect to public Wi-Fi networks as securely as if you were using your own private network at home. Using a VPN helps to prevent cybercriminals from intercepting the data you are sending and receiving from your computer or mobile device.
Written for Symantec