Secure Public Wi-Fi: Best Practices

Best Practices in Securing Public Wi-FiImagine you’ve brought your cell phone or laptop into a neighborhood coffee shop or other establishment where there is free public Wi-Fi. You’ve ordered a coffee and you want to pay some bills online. What could go wrong with connecting to free public Wi-Fi? What you may not be aware of is by doing so, your personal information may be accessible to hackers. So follow the best practices for secure public Wi-Fi.

Public Wi-Fi networks are now found almost anywhere, which is convenient but not always secure. An unsecured Wi-Fi connection can be a threat, regardless of whether it’s set up as a genuine public service or is spoofed and just looks genuine. Green Zebra Smart Networks has put together several important tips to keep your data safe while out and about, connecting to Wi-Fi.

Join a Legitimate Network

Hackers can try to trick you into logging into the wrong Wi-Fi network to then get access to your information. This is one of several types of phishing called Wi-phishing. Make sure the Wi-Fi you want to connect to is genuine. If you go into an establishment and see multiple similar Wi-Fi names, make sure you choose the right one. If you’re not sure, ask someone who works there. Look for the Wi-Fi name that is a precise match.

Join a Secure Network

Unsecured networks don’t require a password for access. Rather than being vulnerable to data theft, choose a hotspot that requires a password for access. Look for a Wi-Fi hotspot that has a lock icon next to it, or if you are using a Windows laptop, look for the word “secured.” Or, if you’re at a hospitality location, they may have a “walled garden” security where you log in through a browser with a password provided by the hotel.

Set Your Device to Ask Your Permission to Connect

The strongest open network in the area does not mean the most secure network in the area. A network in one place might not be as safe as one in another place that has the same name. A malicious actor could copy the broadcast name of a network (called the SSID).

Instead of letting your device just spontaneously connect to the strongest open network in the area, set it to first ask for your permission. Go to Settings > Wi-Fi and select the check mark next to Ask to Join Networks if you are on iOS. Look for Wi-Fi preferences in Settings if you are on Android.

Be the Hotspot to Help Friends Have Secure Public Wi-Fi

Reduce the risk of a data breach. Help your friends and colleagues so that you are all more secure by making your device the hotspot, the source for internet that the others use. Most laptops and phones are easily able do this, depending on the service plan and data allowance. Although this consumes battery life, it can be a way to prevent risking everyone using questionable Wi-Fi.

Go to Settings > Network and Internet > Mobile Hotspot if you are using Windows 10. Select the type of internet connection used. Give your trusted friends the name of the network and the network password.

Go to Apple Menu > System Preferences > Sharing if you are on macOS. Click the Internet Sharing box, select a kind of connection to share, how you want to share it (Wi-Fi), then click Wi-Fi options to name your Mac hotspot. Give it a password.

Go to Settings > Personal Hotspot to turn on Allow Others to Join if you are on iOS.

Go to Settings > Network and Internet > Hotspot and Tethering if on Android.

Avoid Financial Transactions in Hotspots

Save financial transactions like bill paying, transferring money online, or using your credit card (online shopping) for when you’re connected at home rather than while on public Wi-Fi. While at a public location, avoid websites that ask for personal, financial, or business information.

Don’t Use Your Passwords on Public Wi-Fi

Use a password manager to store passwords for you and to keep them encrypted. Ideally, while on public Wi-Fi, don’t go to sites where you must use your passwords. If you do use passwords, make sure you only use passwords on websites where you have two-factor authentication set up.

Turn Off Auto-Connect Features and Always Log Out

Disable features on your device that let you auto-connect to Wi-Fi. You should always manually choose your Wi-Fi. Once you are done using a network, log out.

Visit Sites That Have the Secure HTTPS Connection

Visit websites that show “https://” before the website name (such as in https://www.gzsmartnetworks.com). This indicates a secure website. Sometimes the https:// part of it is not shown, but if you see a lock icon at the start of the address bar that when clicked on shows the word “Secure,” you’ll know the site you are on uses HTTPS. Look for https:// on every page. You can add an “s” to the “http” address to display the encrypted version of the website if the website has an encrypted option.

Use a VPN for Secure Public Wi-Fi

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) creates a tunnel between your device and the VPN server on the other end. That private tunnel encrypts your internet connection, ensuring the safety and anonymity of all your activities and data. Contact Green Zebra Networks to find the one right for you. A VPN should be placed on all your devices, even for the Wi-Fi you use at home.

Disable Sharing

Before you go out somewhere, disable your network sharing option. In Windows 10, go to Settings > Network and Internet > Wi-Fi > Change Advanced Sharing Options and look for Guest or Public. Turn off network discovery so no one can see your computer and turn off file and printer sharing.

Keep Your Software Up to Date

Be sure to update your operating system as soon as updates are available. This fixes security holes. The same goes for mobile apps. Browser apps are especially vulnerable. On iOS go to Settings > App Store > App Updates and toggle it on so apps update on their own. On Android devices go to Google Play > Settings > Auto-update apps. Decide if you want updates to automatically happen only when you are on Wi-Fi or happen over any network.

We hope these tips for a secure public Wi-Fi connection help. Don’t take a secure public Wi-Fi connection for granted. Run smarter and cyber secure regardless of where you connect online, with the guidance of IT certified industry experts at Green Zebra Smart Networks, 800-777-3562.