Public Wi-Fi networks--like those in coffee shops, airports and hotels--may be convenient, but they’re not nearly as safe as you think. Even if you enter a password to log on, you're still sharing a network with strangers. And just because most wireless routers have a firewall to protect you from the scary World Wide Web, it doesn't mean you're protected from all those strangers connected to the same network. We tapped communication security expert Shaun Murphy for his list of what to avoid on public Wi-Fi. Here’s what he has to say.
Don’t Check Email and Bank Accounts
You’ve probably guessed that it’s not a good idea to tap into your financial information when you’re in public, but logging into your email can have equally detrimental effects. Your email account can be used to reset each and every other service that you currently use--making it easier for hackers to completely steal your identity.
Avoid Accidental Sharing
At home, you may share files, printers, or even allow remote login from other computers on your network. Turn these features off when you're on a public network, and while you’re at it, turn off “network discovery,” which will prevent others from even seeing your machine, meaning you're less likely to be targeted. (On most computers, these are all under settings > network > sharing.)
Watch Out for Non-secure Sites
Website connections exchange a lot of information over a network, meaning someone with advanced computer skills can seriously get into your business. Make sure the sites you go on when you’re browsing publicly use secure “https” (look for the green lock icon to the left of the url and make sure the “s” is at the end of “http”), which means that the data passed back and forth between your computer and that web server is encrypted.
Avoid Using Apps
This sounds alarmist, but when on public Wi-Fi, it’s often better to log in to the official browser on your computer instead of using apps on your phone. Why? Web browsers have gone through rigorous security auditing for e-commerce and other sensitive transactions while apps are a wild card--security varies, and something as innocuous as Snapchat could make you a target.