Your bank calls you to verify your recent purchase in a foreign country but you haven’t been away for months. You quickly contest the charge and request a new card, but when you check your wallet the compromised card is still there.
You try to think of shady ATMs or recent cashiers, but nothing comes to mind. Nothing, except the online purchase you made while browsing the Internet at your local coffee shop.
The number of free public Wi-Fi hotspots is growing, but not every hotspot can provide the protection of a private home network. Your notebook, tablet or smartphone’s default settings and firewalls may not be enough to keep you safe from prying eyes while on the go. If you want to keep your information and files secure, read these essential tips for protecting yourself when you’re away from home.
- Turn off Sharing
You may share your music library, printers or files, or even allow remote login from other computers on your Wi-Fi network in the privacy of your own home. Unless you disable these settings before connecting to a public Wi-Fi network, anyone else in the vicinity may be able to hack into your PC.
- Get a VPN
The most secure way to browse on a public network is to use a virtual private network. A VPN routes your traffic through a secure network even on public Wi-Fi, giving you all the perks of your private network while still having the freedom of public Wi-Fi. While free VPN services exist, a paid VPN service guarantees the connection’s integrity. If you regularly connect to unknown networks, setting up a VPN is smart to protect your personal information.
- Avoid Automatically Connecting to Wi-Fi Hotspots
Your smartphone or tablet may be set to automatically connect to any available Wi-Fi hotspot, a setting that can seriously endanger your privacy. Not only will this allow your device to connect to public networks without your express permission, you may also be automatically connecting to malicious networks set up specifically to steal your information. Most modern smartphones have this option disabled by default, but this isn’t always the case, and it’s a setting you should always double-check.
- Use HTTPS
Regular websites transfer content in plain text, making it an easy target for anyone who has hacked into your network connection. Many websites use HTTPS to encrypt the transfer data, but you shouldn't rely on the website or Web service to keep you protected.
- Use Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication means you need two pieces of information to log into an account: One is something you know and the other is something you have. Most often this takes the form of a password and a code sent to your phone.Many popular websites and services support two-factor authentication. This means that even if someone is able to get your password due to a hole in a public Wi-Fi network, they won’t be able to log into your account.
- Confirm the Network Name
Sometimes hackers will set up a fake Wi-Fi network to attract unwitting public Wi-Fi users. The Starbucks public Wi-Fi network might not be named “Free Starbucks Wi-Fi.” Connecting to a fake network could put your device into the hands of a malicious ne’er-do-well.
- Protect Your Passwords
Using unique passwords for different accounts can help if one of your accounts is compromised. Keeping track of multiple secure passwords can be tricky, so using a password manager such as KeePass or LastPass can help keep you safe and secure.
- Turn on Your Firewall
Most OS’s include a built-in firewall, which monitors incoming and outgoing connections. A firewall won’t provide complete protection, but it’s a setting that should always be enabled.
- Run Anti-Virus Software
Always running up-to-date anti-virus software can help provide the first alert if your system has been compromised while connected to an unsecured network. An alert will be displayed if any known viruses are loaded onto your PC or if there’s any suspicious behaviour, such as modifications to registry files.
- Create You Own Private hot-spot with a Data SIM & Mifi
A relatively easy option and ideal if you’re travelling around locally, or abroad, and want the re-assurance of a private 3G or 4G connection. Mifis (mobile wireless routers) are taking the place of USB’s and dongles and enable you to connect to a data SIM within for a secure on-line experience. Prices are relatively low these days at around £40-50 for a mifi and they can also be bought with pre-loaded pay-as-you-go data SIMs depending on your needs. For more information on international data SIMs and Mifi devices visit; www.dataroam.co.uk