How to Use Public Wi-Fi Networks Safely

These days free Wi-Fi can be found in almost any public place – coffee shops, airports, hotels, to name but a few. We're so used to having access to it everywhere that don't even think we can expose our data to security threats. You share a public-access network with a bunch of other people, while very few public hotspots can guarantee strong protection similar to the one of a network in a private home. As a result, your personal data can be easily hacked. So, whether you're using a laptop, a tablet, or a smartphone to surf the Net from a public Wi-Fi hotspot, these five basic steps will help you keep your data safeguarded.

1. Turn On Your Firewall

Now almost every OS comes with a basic firewall installed by default, and one of the basic steps to help you keep hackers away is to enable it whenever you use a public Wi-Fi connection. If you're not sure whether it's on, in Windows you can check it by going to Control Panel, Windows Firewall, and then Turn Windows Firewall On or Off. On a Mac, you can check it by navigating to System Preferences, Security & Privacy, then to the Firewall tab and clicking Turn On Firewall. The firewall is not the ultimate protection tool, but it's recommended to always have it on while on public Wi-Fi networks.

2. Turn Off Sharing

At home, it's very convenient to share libraries, printers, and other files on your network, as well as have remote login access from other devices. But this practice is absolutely unacceptable when you're connected to a public Wi-Fi, as it opens your data to the serious threat of being hacked. You can disable the sharing feature in Windows by opening Network and Sharing Center from Control Panel and clicking Change Private Advanced Sharing Settings found in the left pane. Then you need to turn off network discovery located under Private, Files and Printer sharing, Guest or Public. Don't forget to turn off file and printer sharing as well. In Mac OS X, just go to Sharing Options > Change Advanced Sharing Settings.

3. Use a Virtual Private Network

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a service that creates an encrypted tunnel to the Internet and securely routes your Internet traffic through it. A VPN provides one of the safest ways to browse on public networks, so if you're a constant open Wi-Fi user, it is highly recommended to get a free VPN service or acquire a paid one if you feel you need extra protection.

4. Use HTTPS

Most websites don't use HTTPS to encrypt user's activity so it's better to always check the address bar for having "s" in "https" before you're exchanging your sensitive information. Or you can download HTTPS Everywhere, a browser add-on that will always secure all websites connections with HTTPS.

5. Disable Automatic Connection to Wi-Fi Hotspots

Your devices might have the feature of automatic connection to open Wi-Fi networks enabled, which might be rather dangerous for your private data. And here's why. Hackers sometimes create fake Wi-Fi networks and when you connect to them, they gather your personal information from your traffic. So even having the automatic connection option turned off, use unfamiliar public Wi-Fi networks with caution and always check the network name with the employees of the public place you're in.

These tips should help you enjoy free Wi-Fi while staying safe. But you should keep in mind that the best way to secure your most valuable information is not exposing it at all. So just try not to use your banking account, do any kind of online shopping, or send e-mails with sensitive information while using open networks if it can be avoided.

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