Your bank calls you to verify your $925 bill at a Best Buy in South Florida but you’ve never even stepped foot inside the Sunshine State. You immediately call your bank to cancel your credit card and panic while digging through your wallet to verify that your card has been stolen. You’re then surprised when you find the compromised card in your wallet, right where you left it.
You try to think of creepy ATMs that you’ve used or recent establishments riddled with suspicion but nothing comes to mind. Next, you start searching through online bank statements to find any clues as to where things could have gone wrong. Suddenly you remember a 6 o’clock news story urging online shoppers not to make purchases on Wi-Fi hotspots. Did you really need to buy that ugly Christmas sweater for your office party while you were lounging at Starbucks?
Free public Wi-Fi hotspots are everywhere lately, but not all hotspots can guarantee the same protection that a private home network can. Your laptop, tablet or smartphone’s default settings and firewalls are not enough to keep you safe while on the go. If you want to keep your private information secure when you’re not at home, follow these critical steps to protect yourself.
1. Get a VPN
Easily the most important step to secure online browsing on a public network is to use a virtual private network. The purpose of a VPN is to direct your traffic through a secure network, even while you’re using public Wi-Fi. This way you have all of the benefits of your private network while still being able to browse with confidence at your favorite coffee shop or while traveling.
If you connect to unknown networks, setting up a VPN is a simple way to protect personal information. SaferVPN, known for it’s simplicity and ease, is a popular choice among first time users and tech savvy people alike.
2. Use HTTPS
Websites transfer content in plain text, instantly making you vulnerable to any person that has breached your network connection. Several websites use HTTPS to encrypt the data being transferred, but not all do. Often, hackers take advantage of users’ blind confidence in believing that all websites follow the HTTPS safety protocol.
It’s simple to create this encrypted connection with the extension HTTPS anywhere. Instead of typing “http://” before a website, type “https://” instead. By enabling this plugin, website connections are safe and secure, assuring you that any information is safe from inquisitive eyes.
3. Double-Check the Network Name
Clever hackers use a decoy network name to attract innocent public Wi-Fi users. Imagine you’re back in Starbucks sipping a latte, would you really question a network name called “free Starbucks Wi-Fi”? No, you wouldn’t–and that’s exactly how a hacker could steal all your information. By connecting to a fake network, you could be handing over your most valued data to a masked thief.
Always be sure to ask employees of the cafe what the exact name of the network is. If there is no one around to ask, don’t take the risk, there are plenty of free public Wi-Fi fish in the sea.
4. Protect Your Passwords
In today’s world, using a unique password for each of your online accounts is essential to keeping information safe. Password managers are an easy way to keep multiple secure passwords in line.
Using a service like LastPass will help you stay safe and secure. This service stores your credentials in the cloud so you can always double check your passwords while remaining completely safe.
5. Never Automatically Connect to Wi-Fi Hotspots
There is a chance that your smartphone or tablet is automatically set to connect to free Wi-Fi hotspots, this default setting can seriously put you at risk. By allowing this option on your devices you will connect to networks without your permission.
To see if you’re at risk, open the Wi-Fi on your phone's settings and check if this is enabled. If so, switch the setting to off.
Good luck and stay safe out there.