Public Wifi is a great convenience when you are on the road and need a quick connection to the internet. Unfortunately most publicly accessible wifi spots, such as those found in coffee shops, fast food outlets, book stores, cafes, airports, libraries, are unencrypted. Anyone with the right software tools can sniff your connection potentially compromising your security. In this article, we will take a look at steps that you can take to promote and ensure your wireless security when using a free public wireless hotspot.
First, it is important to know exactly what you are connecting to. Most public Wifi hotspots are meant for the general public to connect to and welcome anyone to connect. Some wifi hotspots are available for connection because of being misconfigured but are not actually public web access connection points. The most common examples of this are wifi routers owned by private individuals who are not secured but are meant only for personal use. While it is a legal grey area as to if connecting to such wifi hotspots is allowed, remember from a security standpoint, it is always a bad idea to connect to them. The reason is that whoever controls the access point can potentially see your internet traffic if they so chose. They may also be able to access your computer and load malicious software code on the machine as well. So just make sure that you are connecting to a bonafide public wifi access site.
Before connecting to a wireless site, it is important to make sure that you are running firewall software on your PC. The firewall software will prevent a direct connection to your machine without your knowledge. This is extremely important. Most modern operating systems come with a firewall already installed, but you should also make sure that it is configured correctly.
Additionally, before you connect to the public access WiFi point, you should make sure and delete all your stored cookies. Often cookies on your hard drive will record passwords and access codes which when connecting via a public web access point, are not the best idea to have available. Some wifi and hotspots use super boost wifi. This will provide the server with more advantages in getting your personal information or data once you get connected.
Once connected it is generally a good practice to limit the types of communications that you carry out over the connection. For example, it is probably a bad idea to check your bank balance over a public WiFi connection. If you must check on a web site that holds sensitive personal information, it is the best practice to do so using a VPN encrypted connection. Basically a VPN (Virtual Private Network) sets up an encrypted private tunnel over the wireless connection – so that even if someone sniffs your web traffic because it would all be encrypted, no one would be able to make sense of it. Many employers offer VPNs to their employees who are issued company laptops, but there are also private VPN services available. If you connect over public WiFi often it might be worthwhile to invest in a VPN connection.
Lastly, remember to log off of any website before you terminate your wireless connection. The reason for this is that many web sites will keep you logged in based on the network address that you were issued until you log off the system. Since you are using a public WiFi service, once you log off, the network address that you were using will likely be reassigned to another pc trying to connect. If that PC surfs to the same web site that you were just previously on, then they may be able to gain access as though they were you. Always remember to log off.