How to protect yourself when using public Wi-Fi

Kerry Keith The Friday Flyer Columnist

Kerry Keith
The Friday Flyer Columnist

In a recent survey, 70 percent of tablet owners and 53 percent of smartphone users utilize hotspots. What is a hotspot? Basically it’s free wireless access to the internet in a specific place that usually does not require a security password. However, even if it is password protected or you have to pay, it still might not be safe.

More and more places like airports, hotels and coffee shops are offering hotspots to access the internet for free. Hotspots are great and convenient, especially when you’re traveling and need access to the internet, but make sure they’re safe.

What if you’ve checked into a hotel and you are paying a daily fee to use their password protected Wi-Fi, are you safe? Sadly the answer is no.

When using a hotspot or public Wi-Fi, whether you are at a five-star hotel or a local restaurant, your computer is not always secure from hackers. There are several ways a hacker can access your passwords, credit card information, and even gain access to your email.

Remember when working on your phone or computer over a public Wi-Fi, never use credit card information, don’t access your online bank or credit card companies to pay bills or check balances, never change passwords, be careful on social media when using passwords, and most important never input birthdates or social security numbers. It’s better to do any of these tasks over your private home internet or cell phone network.

According to a recent survey of internet users, 27 percent used free public Wi-Fi to do their banking or shopping online. Shopping over a public Wi-Fi is fine if only browsing, but wait until you’re on your home Wi-Fi or cell phone network to make a purchase.

If you are notified that your email or accounts have been compromised then you must change your password as soon as you can. This is usually all you need to do to stop the hacker if all they’ve obtained is your password. Remember, not to change your password over a public Wi-Fi.

Home Wi-Fi or a friend’s private Wi-Fi is best; but if traveling, then you can use a smartphone using your cell phone network. If credit card account numbers have been compromised, contact your bank and cancel your card immediately.

Five quick tips to keep your accounts safe:

  • Verify the name of the network you are signing into with the staff of the establishment who’s offering the Wi-Fi to make sure you are connecting to their actual hotspot and not some hacker that set up a free “Evil Twin” hotspot.
  • When connecting to a hotspot or even a paid public Wi-Fi, don’t agree to upload or update any information on your computer. There is no need for this and most likely malware will be uploaded to your computer.
  • Don’t use the same passwords for all your accounts. If a hacker gains your email password and you use the same password for everything else, then they can access your social media accounts or bank accounts.
  • Make sure to turn OFF your file and printing sharing on your computer so that others who are using the same hotspot can’t access your files.
  • Make sure your devices are protected by a rigorous and current anti-malware. This helps to keep hackers away.

Why is your home safe and not a public hotspot? Most hackers aren’t setting up false accounts for just your home account. Homeowners usually know what name their Wi-Fi is under and can’t be fooled, and most homeowners protect their Wi-Fi with a private password. This means if you log into the internet or a guest wants to use your home Wi-Fi there is a password request. (Once the Wi-Fi password is inputted once on your device then you usually don’t have to repeat this step unless you are logging into the internet on a new device).

A password is usually done upon setup of your internet by the installer. If not, then your Wi-Fi is not protected and all your neighbors can use your internet – which will not only slow down the speed, but someone can hack into your computer off of your own Wi-Fi and obtain personal information.

If you travel a lot and are always using public Wi-Fi then look into getting a Virtual Private Network or VPN that allows you to create a secure connection to another network over the internet. A VPN will lessen your worries and help keep your devices safe. Hotspots make traveling easier and not having to pay for Wi-Fi is always a bonus. Just be aware of where and what you are logging into to make sure your device is always protected.