5 Tips for Safer Use of Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi networks may be convenient, particularly for those who like to work on the move or somewhere other than the home or office. However, sharing the same connection with other people who you don’t know presents a number of security issues. This is particularly the case with unsecured public networks, which do not require you to enter a password when connecting. If you are in the habit of using public wireless Internet access, remember that it is not the same as connecting to your home network. The following takes a look at five tips to help you enjoy a safer time online.
1 – Use Secured Networks
A lot of public wireless networks do not have any security settings in place. You should avoid using these for anything other than general browsing. Avoid personal email, online banking or shopping on such websites, or anything else which involves transmitting personal or financial information. With the right software, criminals may be able to access the data being sent between your computer and the Internet, and this data is not encrypted by default on such connections. The most secure connections are those which use WPA2 encryption, followed by WPA. WEP encryption is better than nothing, but it is still not very secure. When you connect to a new public connection for the first time, be sure to choose “Public network” when Windows asks for you to set the network location.
2 – Use Virtual Private Networking (VPN)
A VPN allows you to safely use any public wireless network, including ones which are completely unsecured, with all of the same security features that you would have with a typical home or business network. A VPN service basically creates a virtual private network between your computer and the public network that you’re connecting to. Most business laptops leant to employees use paid VPN services, either in the form of Web-based VPNs or software installed on the local computer. There are free ones available, including cloud-based solutions. However, a paid service is more suitable for those who regularly connect to public Wi-Fi networks.
3 – Look Out for Secure Socket Layer Encryption
Secure socket layer encryption is used on websites which handle personal or financial data. This includes any online shops, bank accounts, social networking sites, email accounts and most other personal accounts. With encryption in place, the data sent between your computer and the website is encrypted, making it undecipherable to anyone who manages to hack into the connection. By contrast, regular, unsecured websites generally don’t use such encryption, in which case all data sent between the computer and the website is in plain text format. If you are entering any personal or financial information, ensure that the website you are using has SSL encryption, even if you are on a home network. You can tell if a website is using encryption by the https:// prefix (rather than http://) at the beginning of the address. Some browsers, such as Google Chrome, simply display a padlock icon instead.
4 – Turn off File Sharing
For the most part, the default file sharing and networking settings in Windows 7 or 8 should be adequate for most users, providing that you choose a suitable network type when connecting to a new Wi-Fi network for the first time. If file sharing is enabled, any other computers connected to the same wireless network will be able to access your computer’s public folders. With public networks, this feature should be disabled by default. However, you can further customize the file sharing options by opening the control panel and navigating to Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center > Advanced sharing settings. For guest or public networks, ensure that network discovery and file and printer sharing is turned off.
5 – Keep Your Operating System Updated
Those constant Windows Update reminders might seem like an annoyance, but keeping your operating system up-to-date is absolutely necessary. Windows is an extremely complex piece of software, and as such it is never perfect straight off the shelf. Every so often, new security vulnerabilities are discovered, and Microsoft frequently releases updates to address such issues. Updates may also make various other improvements, but it is the security-related updates which are the most important. In Windows 8, Windows Update is automatically configured by default to download and install updates. However, you will usually need to restart your computer for the changes to take effect. When Windows asks you to restart, do not delay this any more than you must.