Publicly available open Wifi networks (e.g. those in cafes, restaurants) aren’t as safe as you would think. Even though they are password encrypted, your own personal data is at risk since you’re on the same network with numerous other individuals.
If you’re an avid techno-geek, then you understand the need for data security—especially personal data but if not then I can’t stress enough the importance of using informational security measures. Always refrain from sharing your personal information with anyone and be vigilant when outdoor networks ask for your personal information. So, how do you protect your information from unsecure networks?
Go to Settings
First off, we’ll dive in and talk about what applications and settings can safeguard your data. Regardless of whether the network is password protected or its open you should have these settings and applications enabled—better safe than sorry. The next time you are on a shared network wouldn’t it be better if you’re protected?
1. Switch Off Sharing
Whenever you’re home; for improved productivity and efficiency you usually have all computer peripherals on a network—printers and other devices, and sometimes you even have on remote login for tech support. They are efficient at home where it’s safe but on a public network they are loopholes that can be exploited by anyone—they don’t necessarily have to be a hacker. Additionally, if you aren’t tech savvy then you probably forgot to add password protection during the setup. How do you turn off sharing?
Go to Control Panel, navigate to “Network and internet” then select the “Network and Sharing Center” option. From there proceed to select the “Choose Change Advanced Sharing Setting” option. Once there, you will see your peripherals, public folder sharing and network discovery. Proceed to turn them off; switch off printer and file sharing, network discovery, and public folder sharing. Sometimes Windows does this for you when you’re accessing a new network and specify it as public.
In OS X:
Navigate to System Preferences then proceed to go to Sharing and while you’re there uncheck all the options. Additionally, while on that window you can choose to switch off network discovery. This is a camouflage that will prevent other users from noticing your machine on the network which will make you less of a target.
On windows, you can turn it off in the “advanced sharing settings” while on OS X it’s under the advanced setting of your firewall—aka stealth mode. (see below)
2. Enabling your firewall
Nowadays, firewalls are included in most operating systems and to keep nosy local users away from your computer takes just a few steps. In case you already have your firewall set up then good for you, if not just follow the steps below.
In Windows open up the control panel and navigate to System and Security and select Windows Firewall then turn it on. Windows also allows you to specifically grant access to specific applications—click on “allow a program or feature”
In OS X navigate to System preferences and proceed to Security & Privacy and select Firewall, then turn it on. OS X also allows granting access to specific applications, simply go to “advanced”.
Turning on your firewall won’t completely secure your personal data but it makes it harder for an intruder to bypass your security.
3. Use HTTPS and SSL
Typical connections to the internet are over HTTP and this particular connection doesn’t encrypt data but sends data as plain text via your wireless connection. A hacker—who’s worth his salt, sniffing out your traffic would be child’s play.
With that being said, if the text is a search term on VPNtrends then it’s not that important but what about your email login or password to your PayPal account.
HTTPS is used when directly surfing the web and SSL is used in indirect connections to the internet—using an app, like an email client. These protocols encrypt data packets exchanged between you the client and the web server and protect it from prying eyes.
Many websites (Facebook or Gmail) will have these protocols already but just to be safe you should always look at the address bar and confirm the “s” in https whenever you’re sending and receiving sensitive personal information. Should it disappear you should follow suit—logout. However, other sites support HTTPS on input but the default protocol is HTTP.
Pro tip: if you’re not pressed for time, banking and payment services can wait until you’re home.
4. Secure public wi-fi network using a VPN
SSL encryption isn’t always available on a majority of websites and some search engines and email clients are vulnerable to hackers. Using a VPN (virtual private network) when surfing the web will you give an extra blanket of protection and prevent hackers from spying on your activities. VPN’s let you route your connection through a secure private network and allow you to exchange data remotely via a public network.
There is a variety of VPNs available and we have selected our best VPNs. Most of them are easy to install and you can turn them on whenever you’re on an unsecured public network.
5. Update your programs frequently
A good information security practice is to always update your software whenever updates are available. The most important programs to keep updated include: your web browser and antivirus. There is a constant stream of malware and viruses being created every day so it pays to always update virus signatures.
Also, all devices have operating systems which receive regular updates from their respective developers and most of the updates are security-based so be sure to keep them updated via a secure private network.
Hackers nowadays develop malicious software and embed it in software updates—Trojans, and once you download you expose your computer to malicious use.
6. Use multi-factor authentication
This is a computer access control method whereby, you the user have to present separate pieces of information to an authenticator before you’re granted access to service. It’s typically two-factor authentication and some websites such as Gmail, Facebook, and iCloud support this service. This serves as additional layer of protection to your accounts in the event someone manages to sniff out your password.
While we are on the topic of passwords, it would be prudent to use separate passwords for different services and there are numerous free password managers to help you keep track of all your passwords.
Cyber and information security isn’t all that hard as it’s cranked up to be, it just takes a little pro-activeness on your part. These are just some of the steps that can give you a safer internet experience but we haven’t, by all means exhausted them. For an extra layer of protection, you should consider going for a VPN service after checking off the items on the list.
If there are any security measures that we have left be sure to let us know in the comments below and also be sure to include some of the protocols you use.