You might think that you’ve done everything you can to protect yourself from cyber criminals, but you can still be hit by fraudulent charges to your credit card and identity theft if you don’t use a secure connection. The type of connection that the most data theft occurs on is a public Wi-Fi connection. Criminals steal your information when you connect using your laptop or mobile phone, then you’re left cleaning up the mess that they make. The good news is that learning how to use public Wi-Fi safely is as simple as reading a few tips and understanding a few basic concepts.
Understand that Wi-Fi Isn’t 100% Safe
No matter how hard you try to secure your connection, there is no way to have a fully secure Wi-Fi connection. This is an inherent problem in the fact that wireless signals are broadcast through the air. The only thing stopping someone from receiving these signals and looking at them are a few layers of physical security and encryption. Neither of these things are perfect, which means that you should always prevent transmitting sensitive data like credit card numbers and personal identification numbers.
Turn Off Sharing
Sharing via networks is one of the most useful features when you don’t want to carry multiples copies of songs or files on one hard drive and when you want to be able to have several computers on the same network use the same printer. In a public Wi-Fi situation, it’s one of the biggest things that can put your computer at risk. Connecting to a public Wi-Fi network with sharing enabled allows every person to see your computer. This makes you a target for attacks, data sniffing and a number of malicious activities. To protect yourself, you should disable sharing. You can do this through the Control Panel in the Network and Internet Settings subsection on Windows PCs or in your System Preferences on Mac.
Invest in a VPN
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) allow you to tunnel through a network to another one that’s more secure. Most VPNs make use of some sort of data encryption, such as SSL, and allow your data to be decrypted in a safe network. This makes it harder for malicious individuals to intercept your data on a public Wi-Fi network. If you regularly use public Wi-Fi, then it’s a smart idea to invest in a reliable VPN provider. For as little as about $8 a month, you can find a quality provider that will give you as much bandwidth as you need with multiple exit points.
HTTPS is another layer of encryption that helps obscure what your network data looks like to other people. While it’s only as reliable as the HTTPS implementation, it makes it so criminals have to sort through mountains of data to find the needles that are your confidential information. Most websites allow for HTTPS connectivity by accessing them from “https://website”, but not all websites have this enabled. You can use an add-on such as HTTPS Everywhere to force websites to use a HTTPS connection.
Have a Contingency Plan in Place
Although you can add as many layers of encryption and physical separation as you want, they will eventually fail to cyber criminals given enough time and luck. That means you need to have a contingency plan in place to restrict how much damage would-be thieves can do if they ever do get their hands on your data. This means that you should keep personal information and credit card numbers away from your mobile devices when connected to a public Wi-Fi network. If you need to use a credit card online, consider using a prepaid debit card. This limits the amount that thieves could steal from you to how much money you have loaded on the card. If it ever gets compromised, you can just throw it away and purchase a new one. Many banks will provide an additional layer of security by monitoring your purchasing habits online and giving you a similar type of debit card that can be used solely for online purchases.