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Home > Risks > Public Wi-fi

Public Wi-Fi

Free Internet access seems to be everywhere – not only in airports and hotels, but also restaurants, libraries, and even doctors’ offices. As a society, we have all come to appreciate being “connected” everywhere we go. But the more we connect, the more bad guys (hackers, scammers, identity thieves) are connecting, too.

And the problem with wireless is…wait for it…NO WIRES. Which means that anyone with the right equipment can intercept your communications.

Although Wi-Fi has a specific meaning and has standards established by the Wi-Fi Alliance, most of us use the term to mean simply a wireless network.

 Here are some tips for staying safe the next time you visit Starbucks with your Wi-Fi enabled device.

  1. Always remember that open wireless networks are not secure.
    If you can log into a network without a password, that means anyone else can too. Never send personal or confidential information over an open public wireless network. Even something as simple as the password to your web-based email can give hackers access to get your more important data.
     
  2. If you need a secure connection, use a VPN (virtual private network).
    For example, if you need to connect to your work computer from remote locations, your company may provide you with a VPN connection. A VPN provides a secure way of connecting to a remote network by encrypting your transmission so that, even if it gets intercepted, it can’t be read.
     
  3. Make sure you have a software firewall and keep your anti-virus program updated.
    Firewalls keep out hackers, while anti-virus programs detect and remove many types of malicious software.
     
  4. Watch out for shoulder surfers.
    Most public networks are in areas where there are a lot of people (makes sense). Make sure that no one is looking over your shoulder while you conduct your business or read your email.
     
  5. Verify the name of the network you are connecting to.
    Just because you can connect to a network does not mean you may. If the owner of a network has left it open to the public by mistake, it could still be illegal to use it. (Chapter 815 of the Florida Statutes makes it illegal to access a network without permission.) Remember too, computers with Windows operating systems are set up to connect automatically to available networks, unless you change the settings.
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