Beware the Public Wi-Fi...

Posted by Brian McDonald on 7/10/2016 6:00:00 AM

I was sitting with my wife at a local coffee joint recently.  We were both on our computers, spending a bit of time together chatting while getting some early morning email out of the way before we headed to work.  We were talking about how my Verizon hot spot was much quicker than her AT&T hot spot, when I began wondering what the other patrons in this crowded shop were using for wi-fi?  That got me thinking about the free public wi-fi offered at almost all public locations nowadays and specifically, how many of my fellow java worshippers were conducting personal business while connected to said public wi-fi?

And I said to myself, "They all know how dangerous public wi-fi is, right?  There are so many articles and info pieces out that none of them are using it for anything personal".

But, do they and do you?  If you have found yourself sitting at a coffee house, restaurant, airport or any other location with public wi-fi available and you are connecting to "open" or "free" or "secured or unsecured" public wi-fi do you realize that everything you transmit while connected can be viewed by anyone else connected to that same public wi-fi?  And I mean your passwords, usernames, credit card and bank account info.  Whoah... do I have your attention now?  Here are the things you can do to keep you and your personal info and finances safe:

  • User your common sense.  Use of any open or public network is a security risk. Don't bank, online shop, or do any other activities that would expose your private info. If you aren't willing to share your credit card or bank account with the public, it can wait until you get to your home wi-fi.
  • You are never really secure.  Public wi-fi hot spots are always unsecured connections, period and end of story.  So you and any potential hackers are in fact, hanging out in the same network bubble!  It's not difficult for even a novice hack to check out your activity and sniff out your personal information. So, even if a hot spot requires a login/password or guides you into a login screen, you're at risk.
  • Computer connection to public wi-fi.  Windows and Mac laptops have security features that you have to be familiar with if your using your computer in public. Enable your firewall.  Block all incoming traffic.  Disable file sharing for a public network.
  • Public wi-fi on my cell phone is ok right?  Yeah... no.  Same deal.  A hacker can place himself between your cell and the wi-fi and sniff all your activity.  And public malware on cell phones has become a big issue as hackers use public wi-fi to spread malware to cell phones.  So if you are in a spot questioning whether or not to connect, just don't do it.  Even if you are worried about going over your allotted data plan limit.
  • Padlock it.  If you have to use public wi-fi, make sure the site you are connecting to is secure.  SSL (Secure Socket Layer) sites or https:// sites use enrypted communications between themselves and you.  
  • Personal Hot Spot.  When in doubt, activate the hot spot feature on your cell phone account if you can.  Use your personal or work based cell phone account for computer connectivity to bank or work use outside the office.