How to Protect Your Mobile Device While Using Public Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi makes the world a better place by allowing us to stay connected to work, friends, and family on the go. That’s why most events and establishments offer free Wi-Fi as part of their efforts to provide a better experience for their guests. Although the benefits of public Wi-Fi are pretty awesome, the potential for breaches in online security serves as a significant drawback.
Public Wi-Fi networks make it relatively simple to wage attacks on unsuspecting network users. For as little as 50 dollars, a dishonest internet user can access any unencrypted data being transmitted over a public network through an antenna that can reach devices up to a mile away. Stealing the data you send is even easier if the hacker owns the free Wi-Fi you connect to.
With more than six million internet users being attacked by malware in 2015, the need to take precautionary measures to protect yourself from the same fate is more important than ever. Use the following tips to secure your online activity and personal information from Wi-Fi attacks.
1. Turn off sharing settings
Apps and standard mobile settings have made sharing photos, locations, calendars, and funds simple among smartphone users. Using safe sharing apps while connected to your own secure network is fine, but leaving your sharing settings on while using a public Wi-Fi network could welcome Wi-Fi snoops to view your personal info and data. Be sure to turn off all sharing settings on your mobile devices before connecting to a public Wi-Fi network.
2. Always choose secure networks
When given the option between a password-protected network and an open network, always choose the password protected option. Even if the secure network requires a fee, it’s worth a few bucks to connect to a protected network and avoid the potential risks involved with connecting to the open network. If a secure network isn’t an option at an upcoming event or in your favorite offsite work spot, consider using your phone as a password-protected hotspot or investing in a MiFi device.
3. Disable Wi-Fi when not in use
A great way to reduce the opportunity for Wi-Fi attackers to view your information is to limit the amount of time they could potentially have access to your mobile device via Wi-Fi. When you’re not using your device, take a moment to disable your device’s Wi-Fi feature before putting it back in your pocket or bag. Also remember to “forget” the network on your device so that it doesn’t automatically connect the next time your Wi-Fi is enabled in that area, especially if you aren’t sure whether to trust the person providing Wi-Fi access
4. Ask for an official network
The security experts we spoke to all mentioned that events and conferences require extra caution since hackers can easily take advantage of attendees connecting to the first legitimate-looking network they see. Scammers set up ad hoc access pointes that masquerade as legitimate hotspots in an attempt to view your online activity. These fake networks commonly have either generic names like “Free Wi-Fi” or near-matching names like “Event Name Official Wi-Fi 2.”
As you scan for available Wi-Fi networks on the go, be sure to choose the official, trusted network of the event or business where you are trying to connect. Look for signs that list the official Wi-Fi connection or ask a trusted source for the official network name.
5. Enable “two factor” authentication
Remember when celebrities had their nude photos hacked at an event and spread across the internet? None of that would have been possible had the celebrities enabled two-factor authentication for their cloud storage service (Apple iCloud in that case).
This is where a “two factor” authentication can help. Set each of your apps so that they require two forms of identification before allowing access. For example, you could set your mobile banking app so that it requires both your password and a one-time use code sent via text message before allowing access to manage your funds.
According to security expert and CEO of HighSpeedInternet.com Carson Ward, two-factor authentication is one of the most effective ways to keep your data safe. “It’s hard to know who to trust, or to always be perfect with security,” he says, “But if you secure your email, bank, Dropbox, and other important services with two-factor authentication even a stolen password won’t compromise your accounts.” He adds that most users fail to adequately secure their email accounts. “Everyone understands protecting a bank password is important. People often just forget that their bank password can be easily reset if a hacker breaks into the right email account.”
This site shows which services have two factor authentication – and yes, Apple iCloud is one of them.
6. Use HTTPS or a VPN
If you’re on a public network, you should always look for the lock icon in your browser before entering any information on a site. A VPN (virtual private network) can secure your browsing sessions if you can’t wait to get home to do your banking or shopping. It works by encrypting the traffic between a device and the server to help protect your online information from potential intruders. You can set up a VPN on iOS and Android devices with apps, or using a WPN client like Avast on a laptop.
7. Update your browser and apps in advance
Be sure to update your browser and apps at home before leaving for a trip or event where you will be using a public Wi-Fi network. This is important because certain online attacks are initiated by prompting device users to update certain apps. Once you’ve accepted an attacker’s prompt, they will have access to install malware on your device. An easy way to avoid this is to make sure your apps are already up-to-date so that you can safely avoid accepting any prompts while you’re away.
8. Don’t install new software or try to fix security issues on untrusted Wi-Fi
It’s very possible for the owner of a network to show you popups or to inject warnings into otherwise-trusted websites. One of the most common scams (also used by illegitimate websites) is to show you a fake warning that tells you your computer is at risk or has been infected with a virus. When you click to “fix” the issue, you end up downloading malware which steals your passwords, injects ads, or breaks your device until you pay a hefty ransom to the hackers.
9. Log out of services
Be sure to close all of your apps and logout of all of your services in your browser before logging into a public Wi-Fi network. This is another way to make sure Wi-Fi snoops won’t be able to access the important information stored within your apps. It also helps to stop potential theft from your mobile banking apps in the event that your device is stolen.
Hopefully these tips will help you avoid becoming yet another victim of cybercrime! If you have any questions let us know in the comments below!
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Author - Hilary Bird
Hilary Bird has been combining her fascination of interpersonal communication with the tech and startup world for the past four years. She is an avid writer for multiple tech startups and some lifestyle publications. She is on a mission to understand how technology will continually reshape the way we communicate as human beings.