Keep Your Information Safe While Using Public Wi-Fi And Hotspots

Guest Blog by My Computer Works

In this day and age, everything is connected. From small wristwatches that can receive text messages and calls without picking up your cell phone, to fully functional desktop computers; everything in today’s world is connected to and by the World Wide Web.

It is crazy to think that technology is still ever-growing. Technological growth has brought so many portable devices to the world’s forefront. Why? Because society has adapted the need to be constantly connected to what is going on all around the world; this is where wireless networks and portable devices come into play. It is no secret that laptops, tablets, and smartphones are increasing in popularity, while desktop devices are decreasing rapidly.

Assume you are waiting to board your flight at the airport and you need to jump online; just like your local Starbucks or McDonalds, the airport has a public wireless network for all of its users. It is important to connect your devices to the correct network in order to make sure those networks have protection for you and your personal information.

As stated above, anyone can connect to public Wi-Fi. For a public wireless network to be set up correctly, when looking for the network’s name, you should not be able to see another’s network showing in the network list.  We recommend asking the staff at the airport for the official Wi-Fi network name. Unfortunately, most of the time, you’ll get many different suggestions for Wi-Fi networks to join. When this is the case, you’ll want to be extra careful that the correct network is selected and take further steps to prevent any security issues that come with the use of public Wi-Fi and hotspots. Hackers can use cheap technology and copy the name of a wireless network to lure unsuspecting travels. Once connected to their network, anything transmitted is compromised. Including, but not limited to, usernames and passwords.

The expert technicians at My Computer Works have laid out some tips you may want to consider when using any wireless networks:

Do Not Use The Same Password For Every Website 

This may seem like common sense, but sometimes it is just easier to have the same password for every website login so there is no way you could forget it. While it may be convenient, this could end up doing more harm than good when it comes to protecting your personal information. 

“Sniffing” is the most important reason to mix up your passwords and create a solid difference between them all. Sniffing is something that happens when an internet hacker sees your password through a website that is not secure and uses it to access a secured site. This process can then be easily repeated by the scammer for any website login that has a matching password—i.e., bank accounts, social media, email, and more! 

If you don’t want to change every password, at the very least, consider using one password for secured sites and (banks or webmail), and another password for unsecured sites (web-forums). This will decrease the chances of an internet hacker getting access to valuable information.

A good way to get unique passwords that are impossible to guess is to use Last Pass, a free password manager, which will fully encrypt and store your passwords to keep them secure. You won’t have to remember passwords because they will be stored in your vault. For better security with Last Pass, enable Two-factor authentication.

Understand “Encrypted Traffic”

This is a word that a majority of people don’t know. Encrypted Traffic exists on websites that are labeled ‘secure’. This means that any content you consume will be encrypted between you and the website itself. A feature like this will ensure that it is not easy to compromise the connection.

Most sites, like banks and online retailers, have a secure connection. However, that is not always the case. One way to check is by looking at the web address bar on the top of your internet browser page. Web addresses should include and HTTPS:// at the very beginning, if the “S” is missing, the site is not secure.  Even when the S is there, if you see a warning about the certificate being invalid, it can mean the site isn’t secure.  It is important to be mindful of unsecured network warnings. 

Always look over a website before adding personal information to it, especially when it is being used on a public network.

Connect To The Correct Hotspot

Predators have made connecting to public hotspots more challenging in hopes that you will slip up. When that happens, another person will usually have complete control over your web browsing the entire time you’re on that network. Think of all the information they could gather; banking numbers, log-in credentials, addresses, contact information, and more.

For example, places like McDonalds and Starbucks use AT&T for their internet access, which usually means the network would be named “attwifi”. These predators would create their own hotspot and have it strategically named something like “att-wifi”. This similarity causes individuals to unknowingly connect to the wrong network; giving hackers full control of their web browsing using DNS.

DNS stands for Domain Name System and can be equated to the phonebook of the internet. The internet knows when “google.com” is typed into the address bar, to send you to the Google website. Connecting to the wrong hotspot will allow the hacker to have control over the DSN, meaning they can send you to whatever malicious website they choose.

It is so crucial to know you’re connecting to the correct hotspot. If entering a business that provides free wireless access, it should be mentioned on the door or somewhere inside for the public to see. If there is confusion about the name or password of the network, ask an employee for the correct information. Don’t become a victim by connecting to the wrong hotspot!

Computer’s Firewall Set To “Max”

On a Windows computer, when connecting to a wireless network, you will be asked for your location. If you are not at home, do not select “home”, select “public”. This will prompt your Windows computer to automatically turn off any forms of file sharing. This will also enable the “max” firewall settings without getting in your way too much.

This isn’t usually the case for Mac users. Newer versions of Mac come with strong firewall support. Locate the firewall information in your computer’s settings and set it to “max” when using public wireless networks. 

You will have nothing to worry about when using iOS or Android. Just be sure you do not use apps with your personal information while connected to an unsecured server. Because an app does not require a web address, you will not be able to verify a secure network by its use of HTTPS://. Always turn off Wi-Fi when it is not in use.

Following these tips will increase your device’s security when surfing the web on a public wireless network. As always, the expert computer technicians at My Computer Works are here to help you with any other questions you may have about the use of public Wi-Fi and hotspots.

Periodically update your old passwords

Data-breaches happen almost daily. Several pieces of sensitive information have been compromised in high profile breaches; like Experian and Target. If you think of how often you hear about a breach, you can assume there are several smaller breaches that we never hear about. The best way to make sure you are less hackable is to periodically ‘expire’ old passwords for something completely new. This is very important for important log-ins like email accounts, phone passwords, or your password manager master password.
Access to one’s email will generally give an intruder access to everything else. Most websites and apps offer an email-based password reset. So make sure that your email account’s passwords are all very hard to guess, or use Last Pass and get a random password string generated.

Learn more about Cybercrime Support Network and My Computer Works new strategic partnership.