Public WiFi 102: Staying Safe on Public networks

Don’t know about anybody else, but the only thing (I can think of for now) that gets me as ecstatic as free good food does… is free WiFi. In fact, visiting public places with free and accessible WiFi networks (and good food, too) always made me feel like I’ve found my own heaven on earth.

But thanks to some of my social media pages that were hacked, I got to know about some of the security risks associated with public WiFi; my salvation from the dangers of public and free WiFi came almost immediately. I guess you’ll never really know the bad side to water till you have a near-drowning experience I guess — reason why you should learn how to swim.

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This is why this piece on staying safe when using a public network was concocted: in the grand scheme of things, learning to curb a menace is just as (if not more) important as learning about the menace itself.

No doubts, for so many reasons possible, public WiFi networks can be life-saving, money-saving, and data-saving windfalls. But then again, one has to thread carefully and exercise certain precautions — like the one below — when using one.

1. Keep sensitive information away

Since no public WiFi is a hundred percent secure, it is best practice not to connect to them at all. But there are certain times where you are left no choice.

In such situations, however, ensure you do not access websites or platforms that will require you to input sensitive data like your credit card credentials, banking information, internet/online banking login details and the likes. Also, shopping is not the next best thing to do when on a public network.

2. Avoid ‘Suspect’ Network Names

Try as much as possible to follow instincts, or the basic rule of common sense —if it looks too good to be true, it most likely is— or both, before clicking that connect button on your laptop or smartphone.

WiFi names like ‘Free WiFi Here’, ‘Connect for Free’ are 99.9% of the times ‘Rogue networks’ set up by hackers or sniffers to steal your information as soon as you are connected on the network. Legit Public WiFi networks usually carry the names of the places they are located, or the name of the provider and they are almost always passworded. e.g ‘Ria’s Coffeehouse WiFi’, ‘Mark Pizza WiFi’.

3. Disable File Sharing on Your PC

You might have zero control over what happens on a public network, but you have absolute control over your device.

For Windows OS users, disable File Sharing while Mac user should modify Airdrop options to ‘Contacts Only’. A general rule of thumb is to automate these settings to switch back to default on a secured connection, and back to not sharing files on public networks.

For Windows:

Navigate to Network and Sharing Center > Change advanced sharing settings > Turn off file and printer sharing.

For Mac:

Navigate to System Preferences > Sharing. Uncheck “Everything”.

It is advisable for iOS users to disable Airdrop whole Mac users disable Airdrop discoverability.

4. Use a VPN

Be it on a secured or public network, a VPN encrypts your data and protects your information from Man-in-the-Middle attacks common to public WiFi networks.

5. Privacy-focused Browser Extension

There are browser extensions that helps keep you safe on the internet, particularly on public networks. These extensions come with secure WiFi and bandwidth optimization features and helps block hacker from tracking your cookies and using them to obtain vital information.

Other useful Public WiFi safety tips include:

  • Use HTTPS and avoid suspicious websites
  • Turn of WiFi when not in use
  • Use your own WiFi
  • Be wary of information you send or receive when using Public networks