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With so many millions of us using public wireless access, we need to be as vigilant as ever in guarding our data. There are simply too many vulnerabilities in accessing public WiFi hotspots, so we need to take precautions. That’s why we’re sharing the top ten best tips for safely using public WiFi networks.

Good Internet Hygiene.

Perhaps the first and biggest piece of advice we can give you, beyond software, and beyond tools that promise to protect your privacy, is to practice good internet hygiene. Avoid working with sensitive data—at least online—when you’re using unsecured, public WiFi networks. It may be a good time to check the news or read your favorite blogs, but it’s probably not the best time to do your online banking if you get our meaning.

Use the Right Public WiFi Networks.

Not every public WiFi network is created equal. For example, that “Free Airport WiFi” network lurking in the background is undoubtedly worse than any WiFi network provided by one of the coffee shops, stores, or retailers in the airport, which you’ll want to opt for instead. You’ll appreciate the added security (albeit only security through obscurity, which is flimsy) as well as the likely improved network performance.

Use Semi-Open WiFi Networks Instead.

You may not always have a choice when it comes to what network you use, but if you do have a choice, consider “semi-open” public WiFi networks instead of completely open networks. Consider ones that serve airport lounges, nearby coffee shops that have hidden SSIDs, or that put their passwords on receipts instead of giving them out freely, and so on. Sometimes tools like Wi-Fox have those in their database. You can also turn to Google Places, Yelp, or even good old FourSquare to find those passwords.

Turn Off File Sharing and AirDrop Options.

You may not be able to control who’s on what network you’re using, but you can control your own computer. Regardless of whether you’re using a Windows PC or a Mac, your computer probably has some file sharing options that assume you’re on a trusted network, with other trusted computers. Turn off file sharing in Windows and Mac OS, enable your system’s built-in firewalls, and keep internet-connected apps and services to a minimum. Mac users, take the extra step and set AirDrop to contacts-only. You should do this anyway but now’s a good time.

Then, automate those settings so your device is open when you’re at home or on a trusted network, and then automatically switches to a more secure setup when you’re not.

Turn WiFi Off When Not in Use.

One of the basic rules of security is that if you don’t need something connected to a network, don’t connect it. When you’re finished working online, turn WiFi off on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone. It’s a nice security habit to get used to when you’re using untrusted networks (if you must use them at all), and it’ll also save your battery. It’s easy to do in Mac OS, and in Windows, you can even set your laptop to automatically turn WiFi back on after a short time offline.

Keep Your Antivirus and Antimalware Up to Date.

This list is in no particular order, but we’re willing to bet some of you may have expected to see this tip sooner. If you ever use public, untrusted networks, make sure your computer is running some kind of antimalware utility and complementary antivirus utility as well.

Malwarebytes is a good one, and regularly comes out on top of tests. For the latter, you have options. Avira for Windows and Sophos for Mac OS (it’s also available for Windows) are also good choices. Whatever you choose to use, keep it up to date, and keep it running—especially when you’re out and about. Public WiFi networks have been known to inject ads while you browse, and we all know how bad malvertising can be.

Install Privacy-Protecting Browser Extensions.

Antimalware is great, but it only protects you from things you download and execute, not malvertising or malware, which can wind up on your system through no fault of your own. The next step is to fortify your browser with tools designed to protect your privacy.

You probably already use an ad blocker, but a good, customizable one like uBlock Origin gives you control over what’s blocked and what isn’t when you want it and can lock out just about anything when you need it to.

Use HTTPS Everywhere You Can.

Anywhere HTTPS works, use it—and HTTPS Everywhere, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation—can make sure you do. Of course, not every site supports it, but if it’s available, the add-on will try to bump you over to the secure version of the site, and if it’s not there, you’ll roll back to the plain HTTP version.

It’s not “absolutely perfect” security, but making sure your connection to a given site is secure means at the very least the information sent to you (and that you send to the site) is encrypted, which goes a long way to making sure that anyone snooping on your communications doesn’t get anything sensitive.

Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

The best protection from an untrusted network when you must use one is direct, encrypted access to a trusted one. That means using a VPN when you’re out and about. Whether you use a third-party VPN service provider or you run your own VPN at home and connect to it when you’re out and about, using one makes sure that all your data is encrypted between you and the service provider, locking out anyone on the same network as you who might be snooping around.

Of course, if you run your own at home and connect to it, the trusted network we’re talking about is your home network and your home ISP. It’ll likely be slower, but at least you know the equivalent experience is you surfing the web or working from home. If you use a VPN provider, you’ll need to make sure they’re trustworthy, don’t leak your IP address, or leak any other information about you. That goes double for mobile VPNs, which can be riddled with malware and soak up private information while you use them.

Bring Your Own WiFi Instead.

The true, best protection from an untrusted network is not using it at all. Of course, this isn’t a real way to make public WiFi any safer, but if you can, consider ditching the public WiFi entirely and bringing your own. Whether you use a mobile hotspot like a MiFi or a Karma, or you just tether to your smartphone and use your wireless carrier’s data, both approaches get you off of the questionable public WiFi at the airport while you’re waiting for your layover and onto cellular data instead.
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And, there you have it. 10 of the best tips for safe web surfing on public WiFi networks.

Call Us for More Help with Safe Use of Public WiFi Networks

If you have concerns about you or staff using public WiFi networks insecurely, contact us at (719) 310-3035 to get a wireless security evaluation towards making sure you will always be able to securely, safely use public WiFi!

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Colorado Computer Support is a local IT company certified and verified service-disabled veteran-owned Small Business. When you use our IT services in Colorado Springs, you can be confident that you are dealing with a Colorado Springs company owned by a disabled veteran and that they will be able to provide you with the best possible IT support.
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