Do you love public wireless Internet? Many of us rely on public WiFi at coffee shops, universities, and libraries to get our work done. But how can you protect your personal information on public WiFi? Unless you follow the right safety tips to boost your security, you might be exposing yourself to hackers and identity thieves when you log on at the local Starbucks.
It’s important to make sure that you’re using an encrypted connection any time you’re using the Internet in a public place where it can be accessed by other users. Unfortunately, a lot of public WiFi connections aren’t as secure as they should be, leaving your private information vulnerable to cyber scammers.
Here’s how you can help protect your personal information and stay safe the next time you’re using a public WiFi connection.
Encryption Protects Your Privacy
When you’re using a public Internet connection, always look for something called encryption. Encryption means that information sent over that connection is coded and scrambled so other users can’t see it or access it.
Typically, encryption happens in two different ways: either a website itself is encrypted, the wireless network is encrypted, or they both are. Either way, this keeps your information secure so that nobody can see what you’re doing online or potentially steal your personal data.
The important distinction to remember is that an encrypted website will not protect your information when you’re visiting other websites. As OnGuard Online clarifies:
“An encrypted website protects ONLY the information you send to and from that site. A secure wireless network encrypts ALL the information you send using that network.”
How to Tell If Your WiFi Connection Is Encrypted
Are you required to enter a password to connect? If so, you can rest assured that your information is safe because a password means the WiFi access point itself is encrypted. This known as WPA or WiFi Protected Access.
Many websites will also encrypt information for you, on their end, to ensure that hackers aren’t able to steal your private data. Websites like social media login pages (where you enter your username and apssword) and bank account logins must be protected at all times, so these websites will often encrypt their information.
You can tell that a website is encrypted when it says “https” in the URL, like so:
The “s”stands for secure.
Protect Your Information, No Matter What
But unfortunately, even a public WiFi network that’s WPA-secured is still a bit risk. For example, many libraries use WPA encryption, but they’ll give the password out to anyone who asks. If one of these patrons happens to be a cyber scammer, you might be in trouble.
To boost your security if you’re visiting an encrypted site on a public network, make sure every page is secure (it should display the “https“). Some sites only encrypt their login pages and this isn’t always enough to protect from hackers.
Make sure your web browser and antivirus software are both equipped with the latest security updates and pay attention to any warnings you receive. Most browsers will alert you if a site is suspicious. If you’re not sure as to whether or not a site is encrypted, assume it isn’t.
Whenever possible, always avoid making financial transactions over any public WiFi, encrypted or not. Just wait to get home before you login to your bank account website or buy that Father’s Day gift online with your credit card.
Do you use public WiFi? What steps do you take to guarantee your privacy and protect your sensitive data from scammers? Share your thoughts in the comments below!