You use firewalls and passwords to control who or what can access your home or office network, but public Wi-Fi is open to all.
You need to take precautions when using public nets; here are some tips for safe computing outside your fixed defenses.
Cyber criminals love public Wi-Fi networks. Using simple tools, even novice hackers can — with relative ease — tap into nearby Wi-Fi signals sent and received by nearby notebooks, tablets, and phones. While you’re sipping your latte at the local café, the person at the next table could be watching and noting everything you do on the Internet. Any unencrypted data, including passwords and shared folders, could be his or hers for the taking. The crook might even trick you into signing on to a malicious wireless network masquerading as an honest one.
Obviously, the best security policy is to use only your private, password-protected (I assume) network for Wi-Fi-based Internet connections. But then, when connecting to the Internet outside the home or office, you’re limited to the expense and relatively slow speed of cellular connections.
This article assumes you’re going to connect your laptop, tablet, and/or smartphone to a public Wi-Fi net, whether at a café, a library, an airport, or the many other locations that offer local-wireless access. (A hotel’s Wi-Fi might require a password, but it’s still effectively an open net.) Here’s what you should know to stay safe. (Experienced Windows users will know most of this, but it never hurts to be reminded.) I’ll also provide a few tips on public-Wi-Fi etiquette.
First and foremost, get on the right network
Working away from office distractions is sometimes a necessity. So you head to the nearest bistro, sit down with your carbs and caffeine, start up your laptop, and sign in to the local network. But what network? In dense urban settings, you might see a dozen or more listed by Windows.
Most of those networks will be obviously locked, so your first inclination is to jump on the one that’s unlocked and has the bistro’s name. In most cases, that’s the right choice — but not always! Be aware that a cyber crook might have set up a bogus Wi-Fi network with a legitimate-sounding name. If you’re tricked into connecting to the malicious net, the thief will try a man-in-the-middle attack to gain full access to your Internet connection.