Hopefully, we’ve demonstrated that the risks of public WiFi are not to be understated. But we aren’t trying to put you off using it altogether. Thankfully there are ways to protect yourself while benefitting from the convenience it offers.
Here are our 6 key public WiFi safety tips.
1. Set Up Your Device Correctly
First, look at the security settings on your computer. If you’ve never done this before, you probably haven’t got it set up correctly.
On Windows, you should set your default connection profile as Public. That will safeguard you against accidentally connecting to an unknown network with the wrong security settings.
An example of this procedure is shown here. We recommend using option 1, the manual configuration method. Take care when editing any Windows settings; seek advice if you aren’t confident with this. And don’t download any registry editing files while connected to public WiFi.
With your security settings sharpened up, you can now set up to your known, secured networks as Private connections. Typically, this will include your home, office, or school WiFi. The Private setting is more suitable for secure networks.
2. Check Your Firewall is Active
You should also have a firewall running all the time, and you need to keep your virus definitions updated to protect against the most recent threats.
Windows is quite good at prompting you to set up a firewall, so you may have already done this. Turn on automatic virus definition updates, or try to get into the habit of updating definitions when the nag screen appears.
If you’re a Mac user, you might never have bothered to use your firewall. Now’s the time familiarize yourself with it. And make sure it is switched on before connecting to public WiFi.
It’s good practice to go into System Preferences on your Mac and switch off any Sharing options that you don’t use.
3. Install Software Updates
Try to get in the habit of installing software updates as soon as they’re available. They usually contain security patches. Staying up-to-date will protect you against known vulnerabilities that hackers can easily exploit.
Note: malicious hackers can trigger fake downloads on your computer while you’re on Public WiFi. As such, you should only never download updates on public WiFi, particularly if the alert box pops up while you’re on that public hotspot. Disconnect and check for updates when you’re on a secure connection.
4. Use a VPN
Even if you use public WiFi infrequently, it’s worth setting up a VPN to protect your connection. VPNs work by creating an encrypted tunnel that all of your traffic flows through. This ensures that your activity is hidden, regardless of the network you’re on.
Here’s a tip: don’t leave this until the last minute. Set up the VPN today. Take a look at our 10 best VPN list if you aren’t sure where to start. Next time you need to use a public WiFi network when traveling, you’ll be glad you did the groundwork.
A VPN will slow down your connection, and on public WiFi, this can be an issue for usability. In our tests, we compare VPNs in terms of the speeds they offer. The slowdown on the best VPNs is negligible. So if performance is important to you, check out our Best VPNs for 2018 to find the fastest VPN for your budget.
5. Delete the Network When You’re Done
Get into the habit of deleting public WiFi networks from all of your devices as soon as you’re done with the connection.
For example, on Android, you can Forget the network in your WiFi settings. On a Mac, just delete the network from your WiFi history.
Keeping a lean WiFi history helps to avoid the possibility that you’ll connect to a fake access point later.
6. Use Common Sense
If you have to use a public WiFi network without a VPN, don’t connect to sensitive websites, like your online banking. Don’t type in credit card numbers. And avoid using any site that doesn’t have HTTPS. (That includes eBay, believe it or not.)
In an emergency, disconnect your smartphone from WiFi and tether using the cellular (3G or 4G) connection instead.