Wireless networks’ ability to instantly connect us to the internet has made us more dependent than ever on this ever-changing and constantly growing technology. Nowadays, it seems as if it would be nearly impossible to function at the same capacity and speed without it.
But that leaves us with an important question: How to access and ensure secure public WiFi when we’re working remotely or catching up on our accounts away from home?
The Need for Protection
First, it’s important to understand that since it is pretty inexpensive to set up a network and provide WiFi, public hotspots make us vulnerable to threats. Wireless networks that are publicly accessible allow anyone in range of the hotspot to use its service, with good or bad intentions. Although most users believe that they have safe internet practices to protect their online identity, hackers are becoming smarter and public networks are the ideal servers for compromising your data and accounts without you even realizing it.
While we cannot determine the motives of others using the shared network, as individuals we can work to protect ourselves online, and network hosts can secure internet connections for added safety.
Providers of public WiFi can protect WiFi users by securing their WiFi. Using a secure network reduces the likelihood of a hacker successfully stealing individuals’ identities or breaching their organization’s data. Providers can do this using encryption and firewalls.
At the same time, there are a few easy things that users can start doing right now to access and ensure secure public WiFi.
1) Consider Where You Are
This may seem like a no-brainer, but the truth is most people don’t realize how vulnerable their device and their information is when using public WiFi.
Take a coffee shop, for example. This is a place most of us go to regularly and use our phones, tablets, and laptops to answer emails, shop online, or read the news. While we are browsing online, we may be holding conversations with a friend, enjoying a beverage, or even engaging is some people watching. All of these things can make you forget about the possibility that someone is trying to access your information.
Know your surroundings, and take note of the people sitting near you. If possible, avoid doing any online banking or bill paying when connected to a public network or hotspot (save those things for home if you can).
2) Explore the Differences Between Free & Paid Networks
This isn’t always the case, but many public venues do offer a more secure network, but for a price. These networks allow you to pay for a username or password and access to a more stable and protected connection, one with fewer users on it and a smaller risk of hackers.
Again, some public spaces only have the free network. If that is the case, just remember to be smart about the pages you visit and the information you share.
3) Check for “HTTPS” VS “HTTP”
Another strategy is to check your browser bar for the type of URL you are on. If the website says “HTTP” in front of it, it is a standard website with no added security. If there is “HTTPS” in the URL, that means the website is secure. You can also look for a padlock icon, too.
The main takeaway here is that a public network is secured to a certain standard, but the pages you visit will vary in their encryption. So, as mentioned above, try to refrain from sharing any credit card or personal information on sites lacking that extra security.
4) Turn “Auto Connect” Off & Look for Signs
When you first open your device to connect to the free WiFi offered at the library or coffee shop, take a moment to look for a sign that gives the WiFi name. In most cases, establishments have some signage near a register or on the wall with the name of the network. This is actually a very important thing to look for when it comes to digital safety.
This is due to the fact that many hackers will create dummy WiFi networks with generic names. For example, if you are at John’s Cafe, your first instinct may be to connect to the JohnsCafeFREE WiFi network. In reality, John’s Cafe may have set up a more secure network for its customers, called JohnsCafeGuest.
That’s why it is important to turn off Auto Connect, as you want to know the networks you are connecting to in order to avoid connecting to a hacker or dummy network. If you don’t see a sign, just ask an employee in the area.
There is a lot of responsibility on the user to engage in smart and safe behavior when using public WiFi. However, there is also an expectation that businesses and organizations implement secure networks for their guests to use without the fear of risking their personal information. As more people and devices are connecting to networks every day, it is essential to have a fast, durable, and secure network for your employees, tenants, guests, or customers. It is no longer a nice convenience for people to be in an area with free WiFi — it is a necessity. Our Secure Communications Equipment Guide can help.
If you are looking for more information on setting up or using a fast, reliable, and secure wireless network, contact Chicago Communications today or download our free Wireless Communication Survival Guide.