Wi-Fi hotspots are public places where you can connect to the internet through your laptop, tablet or smartphone. Cafes, bars, hotels, libraries, holiday resorts etc often offer free access where you can get online with log-on details and a password or you can use a wireless card.
Many people use public Wi-Fi without any problems. The following is a guide to what can happen and how you can make sure you are using it safely and securely.
Ten steps for using Wi-Fi hotspots securely
1. Take measures to safeguard security
Wi-Fi hotspots are often unprotected and unencrypted, with users writing email and searching the internet in plain text. Without encryption, the data goes unprotected through the air as radio signals so your private emails, personal files, web searches or login details are vulnerable to hackers.
Always use https:// when online as this is more secure than an http:// connection and encrypts the data which goes back and forth between your computer and the web server.
2. Be aware of rogue networks
A rogue networks is a phishing scam, where a cybercriminal lures users to log on to a similar sounding Wi-Fi network. The rogue network collects log-in names and passwords and may even direct you to other fraudulent web pages or trick you into giving away credit card numbers or other personal information. Make sure you're on a legitimate connection by checking with the proprietor (of the cafe, hotel etc) to confirm the network name and password. Also make sure you manually select the hotspot when you connect - don't just let it join the nearest network.
3. Activate your firewall
This will help prevent unauthorised users from gaining access to your computer through the internet or a network. It may already be activated but you should double check.
Click on our article How your firewall software works to find out if your firewall is activated on Windows.
On a Mac check under System Preferences > Security > Firewall
4. Avoid online banking or shopping
Log-on details, passwords etc are more vulnerable to hackers in Wi-Fi hotspots. Wait until you are on a secure network.
5. Turn off file sharing
At home, it's safe to share files and printers but in public networks you should turn this function off.
6. Turn off the internet when you're not using it
Only keep connected when you really have to.
7. Encrypt your files
Encrypt sensitive files or folders so others can't read or modify them.
8. Be cautious
Only use email and chat for non-sensitive conversations. Don't say anything you wouldn't want to become public and don't surf websites you wouldn't want a stranger to know you're viewing.
9. Be aware
Make sure strangers are not around you and looking over your shoulder viewing your passwords, log-in details etc.
10. Don't leave your computer unattended
We may be used to getting up and leaving our computer at home but keep in mind that in a split second a stranger could see your personal details or even steal your computer.
Using Wi-Fi hotspots can be safe and stress-free - these are just some tips to make sure your surfing - whether home or away - is even safer.