Staying secure on public wifi

The widespread availability of free public wifi is great news – today it’s easier than ever to stay in touch, get directions and find information from our smartphones and tablets away from home.

Working in a coffee shop, checking your bank balance while you shop and having your own personal GPS in your pocket are just a few of the things readily available wifi makes it possible to do.

And while free wifi is incredibly convenient, it also carries with it certain security risks; connections aren’t always secure and without realising we could be opening ourselves up to hacking and identity theft.

Here’s a few tips for staying safe on public wifi, whether you’re on your phone, laptop or tablet.

Make sure you trust the network

The simplest way to protect your online security is to be smart about which wifi networks you connect to. Avoid just clicking “free wifi” – make sure the network is familiar to you before you use it, and verify the network name where possible before you connect. The most secure networks are those that are password protected. Completely open networks are just that – open – increasingly the likelihood that someone unwanted could tap into the network and monitor your activity remotely without you ever knowing.

Turn off sharing

Sharing settings make it easy to share files and printers between devices at home, they can also make you vulnerable to others snooping through your computer’s shared folders when you use your computer elsewhere. Turn off any sharing settings when you’re on a public network and make sure any shared folders are password protected. You can find this in your control panel network and internet settings on a Windows computer and under network in your Mac system preferences. 

Enable a firewall

Most operating systems have a simple firewall setting in place already, but you can beef up your security manually by turning it on. Go to your security settings and check your firewall is on for added security.

Look for HTTPS websites

Particularly if you’re doing anything using personal information – sending emails, online shopping or banking, for example – you want as much additional security as possible. On traditional HTTP websites it’s fairly straightforward for an experienced hacker to se the text being exchanged over a wireless network. Not such a big deal if you’re searching for the weather forecast, but more concerning if you’re typing in email or account passwords. While browsing the web, make sure any websites you use are HTTPS or SSL encrypted. You can check this by looking up at the URL in the address bar – it should start with https:// (like it does on Facebook), and depending on your browser, will also display a small lock icon beside the URL.

Turn off wifi and forget networks

You may find yourself connected to BT Openzone or your local coffee shop from time to time because you’re in range of a network you’ve joined before. By telling your computer to forget these networks and keeping your wifi turned off when not using it, you can further minimise the chance someone unwanted gets access to your data by hijacking a wifi connection.

 Do you have any tips for staying secure on public wifi? Let us know in the comments below!




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Rachel - Silversurfers Assistant Editor

Hello there! I’m Rachel and I’m the Assistant Editor for Silversurfers. I work behind the scenes to bring interesting, informative and entertaining subject matter to the Silversurfers community. I hope you enjoy the features we have shared with you. Please feel free to comment below and share your thoughts with us, we love to hear from you!

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3rd Jan 2017
Thanks for voting!
I always use a lot of different passwords-so many I cannot remember a lot of them!!!
31st Jul 2016
Thanks for voting!
Apologies for some duplication Rachel but the https is very important and when I said forget the lock, I wasn't disagreeing but usually a hacker will display a large yellow lock, not the small one next to the normal https, and some people seeing a large yellow lock don't check the 's' in https.
31st Jul 2016
Thanks for voting!
Yes, excellent advice to disable 'remember network' as auto connecting to a previous wifi can be very risky, and you are also 'advertising' to a hacker on the same wifi the names of your previous connections, which can be 'spoofed' making your device think it is safe to connect to the spoof (faked) address and not the real one.

VERY important look in the address bar of your browser, get used to doing this at home and check if it says https and not http, not all sites use https but all the major sites, banks, paypal, facebook etc use this to protect your password from being 'captured' when you login, so if an https site at home becomes an http site on public wifi don't use it, forget the lock logo, if it doesn't say https then it isn't https, and it doesn't, leave the site. Think http(s) for secure.

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