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January 19 2015
Tips and Tricks

The truth about using public WiFi

PostedMonday January 19th 2015

You check your phone, tablet or laptop and identify a free public WiFi hotspot, jackpot right? Well if you’re overseas or out of mobile data and need internet it may be, giving you a free trip to the internet superhighway… but it’s not nearly as safe as you think it is. Regardless of whether the free WiFi requires a password you collect from the counter or you just hit connect, you’re sharing a network with numerous other users and you’re sharing your data as a result.

Whilst sharing a network, you are not protected from other users who are connected to it as well; thus making it possible for others to sniff your data either through crafty efforts or just lax security. Even if you’re just checking your email, let alone taking the risk of checking your internet banking, it’s critical that you take the steps to keep yourself secure every time you connect to a public network. After all, it’s rather trivial to sniff out passwords over WiFi; it takes almost zero effort to eavesdrop on other users. So the question is why put your security and your privacy at risk?

So what should you do?

1. Avoid the sensitive stuff
Do you really need to do your internet banking over public WiFi, do you really need to buy something and enter your Credit Card over public WiFi? Think about avoiding these things, by doing so you’re keeping your most important accounts/details secure and minimising your risk – granted you should be using HTTPS/SSL.

2. Don’t enable network sharing
When you first access a new WiFi network a Windows computer will ask you what sharing zone you want to be in. Always set it to a public network to ensure that you’ve got network to discover and file sharing disabled.

3. Use HTTPS and SSL connections
Where possible, opt for the more secure HTTPS connections. Many websites such as Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, etc will automatically default to turning it on and this helps to avoid others sniffing your traffic. If you’re collecting mail using an application such as Microsoft Outlook, Mac Mail, Thunderbird, etc; in your email settings enable “Use SSL” – this is a good idea for any internet connection.

4. Use a Virus Scanner and Firewall
Turn them on and keep them up to date. A firewall isn’t going to stop everything, but it’s going to do a darn good job of protecting you from some of the basic attack attempts.

5. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
This might seem a tad extreme, but if you can it’s perhaps best to always use a VPN when on a public WiFi network. What this is going to do is encrypt all of your network traffic to a secure server in the cloud, preventing local WiFi users from sniffing your data. Using something like Vyprvpn or CyberGhost will get you going, or even a VentraIP VPS with a VPN setup on it.

These 5 tips aren’t going to cover everything, but they are excellent steps to take to minimise your risk on free public WiFi. Always consider a safety-first approach and if it’s something truly sensitive, ask yourself whether it’s something which needs to wait until you’re on a more secure internet connection.

Additional link: Stay Smart Online – Australian Government Initiative

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Angelo is the co-CEO and one of VentraIP Australia's co-founders. His passion for the industry is only rivalled by his d...
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