When travelling overseas connecting to the internet can be expensive. Many of us are lured by the prospect of a free internet connection at airports, shopping centres, coffee shops and the like and happily connect with little consideration to the risk posed. Many travellers have no idea how to safely navigate through risky WiFi connections.
How To Stay Safe When Using Public WiFi
Public WiFi hot spots are available at many locations, are convenient and can be used safely. By understanding what you need to know and do before connecting travelers can minimize their exposure to criminals.
In our eagerness to secure a 'free' internet connection most of us are tempted to click through whatever welcome screens appear, however one needs be very careful to check what you're signing up for. Many WiFi networks are set up in public places by marketing firms who are willing to give you some bandwidth in return for an email address and phone number, meaning you could be bombarded with unwanted contact within days of connecting.
The connection terms and conditions should always include details of how your data is going to be used. By reading through the terms and conditions in full prior to connecting, you are in a better position to decide whether access really is worth the information you're giving up. This is one of those times when it's handy to have an alternative email address you can make use of.
Another option is to stick to advertised official WiFi network points that have been set up by the coffee shop, airport or bar. Hackers frequently set up free WiFi networks to catch gullible citizens looking for free bandwidth. If you see an open, banal looking network that seems too good to be true, then it probably is.
Use Secure Websites And Apps
The green padlock that appears in your browser's address bar when you are connected to a secure site is even more important when on public WiFi. Seriously consider before doing anything important across an unsecured connection including accessing your bank account as it is much easier for someone else on the same network to seize the data that is being transferred during the course of the connection.
If you are connected on your phone it is always better to use a mobile browser than an app because browsers are more fussy when it comes to checking and verifying these 'HTTPS' connections. In effect apps can be accepting bogus security credentials without your knowledge and could potentially present a problem if you are doing something important like online banking.
In terms of mobile apps users are really at the mercy of the developer as far as wireless security goes. Sticking to apps from well-known names while on public WiFi will limit the risk although there is no guarantee. If you're using the mobile versions of Chrome or Safari then you have the same kind of protection in place as you do when using the desktop programs.
Avoid downloading or installing anything and make sure all your system software is up to date. If you are using a laptop make sure you are not sharing folders or devices with others on the network. This should be managed automatically for you by your OS when you connect to a public WiFi network but you should just double check to be sure.
If you are using Windows visit the Network and Sharing Center in Control Panel then follow the 'change advanced sharing' settings link where you can configure different options for private and public networks that kick in automatically. On Mac OS X the option can be found under the sharing entry in System Preferences. Always untick the File Sharing box for extra protection.