July 24, 2014
In April, the City of Boston's Department of Innovation Technology and Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced "Wicked Free Wi-Fi: Boston's Public Wireless Network," free public Wi-Fi reaching thousands of people using more than 170 access points throughout the city.
Countless coffee shops, restaurants, airports, and hotels offer free Wi-Fi. However, we must be cautious, as it is extremely easy for a hacker to access your information once they have joined the same network as you. By following these tips, you can begin to use public Wi-Fi in a smarter and safer way.
Verify Network Name
The first and easiest step that you can take in maintaining your privacy on public Wi-Fi is verifying the network name. Ask or look for the exact name of the network to ensure that you are connecting to the official network.
A common trick that hackers use is setting up their own, fake Wi-Fi network to easily gather information from those who join. Ensuring that you are connecting to the correct network will help avoid security threats like this.
Look for and Use HTTPS
While on a site, especially one that you provide any information to, you want the communication between your device and the site to be encrypted. SSL encryption makes the information you distribute unreadable to anyone who may intercept it.
The easiest way to determine if SSL encryption is active is to look at the URL in your browser. If the site address starts with "https" and a padlock is visible, your information is safe. Do not provide any information to a site that is missing the essential "s" in "https."
Avoid Automatic Connection to Wi-Fi
Many devices have a feature that allows automatic connection to local Wi-Fi networks. This gives you immediate access to any available Wi-Fi, but, in exchange, it could compromise your security as you do not have to give permission to connect. This means that you could be connected to a network without your awareness.
Turn off the setting that automatically connects your device to Wi-Fi to ensure that you are only connecting with permission to legitimate networks.
Turn Off Any Sharing
It is likely that while you are at home, you share music, files, or printers. Make sure that when you are using a public network, you disable sharing as sharing makes it easy for anyone to access your inormation.
Turn On Firewall
Always make sure that your firewall is enabled. Although this alone will not offer complete protection, it is very helpful in monitoring connections and keeping your information safe.