How to Keep Your Information Safe on Public Wi-Fi

Published on December 2, 2014

Accessing a public Wi-Fi network while you're out and about is a relatively simple process. You click, agree to some terms, maybe enter in a password, connect, and you're good to go.

However, many don't realize that logging into a public Wi-Fi network - even one with a password - puts your personal data at risk. It is surprisingly easy to steal someone's username and password, or monitor what they're doing.

How can you keep your data safe while using a public Wi-Fi source? Here are some great tips from Lifehacker.

1. Automate Public Wi-Fi Settings

You probably don't want to go through all of these steps every time you're out and about. Here's how you can automate your public wi-fi settings to turn on while you're out (and create separate settings for your Home network as well).

For Windows:

When you first connect to a network on Windows, it will ask whether you're connecting to a Home, Work, or Public network. These choices will switch on your preset list of settings. The Public setting will provide the most security.

To customize these presets, open Control Panel, navigate to Network and Sharing Center, and click on Advanced Sharing Settings. Here you can choose network discovery, file sharing, public folder sharing, media streaming, and other options on and off based on the different profiles.

You could also use another great program entitled NetSetMan to customize your network profile for different networks. This offers more detailed options, such as choosing an IP address, DNS server, or create customized scripts that will pop up every time you connect to a preset network.

For OS X:

OS X doesn't have the same built-in options that Windows does on this front. You can, however, use an app like ControlPlane to customize your options. With this app you can customize when to turn on firewall, turn off sharing, connect to a VPN, and more.

For greater control of your information safety

2. Turn off sharing

Sharing is a useful feature while you're at home on your secure network. This feature allows you to share files, printers, or allow for remote login from other computers. However, while you're on a public network, you'll want to ensure this setting gets turned off.

For Windows:

  • Open Control Panel
  • Click Network and Internet
  • Click Network and Sharing Center
  • Click Chance Advance Sharing Settings
  • Turn off file sharing, printer sharing, network discovery, and Public folder sharing

For OS X:

  • Open System Preferences
  • Click Sharing
  • Make sure all boxes are unchecked

3. Enable personal firewall

Almost all operating systems come with a basic firewall, and you want to make sure yours is enabled.

For Windows:

  • Open Control Panel
  • Click System and Security
  • Enable Windows Firewall

For Mac:

  • Open System Preferences
  • Click Security & Privacy
  • Turn on Firewall

Note that a Firewall does not fully protect from information theft, but it does offer some protection.

4. Use HTTPS when possible

A regular website connection starts with HTTP. When you visit websites, you'll want to use HTTPS or SSL to encrypt the data passed back and forth between your computer and web server.

Some sites do it automatically - like Facebook and Gmail - but not always. Remember to re-load your site with a HTTPS connection by manually typing in "HTTPS://" in front of your "www" URL.

If you're doing some sensitive browsing, i.e. banking or credit card purchases, know that it is always better to wait until your at home to ensure maximum security. If you can wait, do wait - why risk your information if you don't have to?

5. Use a Virtual Private Network

Not all websites have the ability to encrypt your information via HTTP or SSL. Certain search engines and email providers can be vulnerable. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can help further protect your activities. These services route your activity through a secure, private network - even while in a public one.

There are a lot of choices for VPNs. CyberGhost is a simple, free option that you can install on your computer and turn it off whenever you're using a public network. For more options, Lifehacker offers an extensive list.

6. Turn Wi-Fi Off When You're Not Using It

To guarantee your safety while you're using your computer but not the internet in a public place, go ahead and turn off your Wi-Fi. In Windows, you can right-click on your wireless icon in the taskbar to turn it off. On Mac, click the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar and turn off the AirPort option.

Unsure what to do? Wait.

If you have second thoughts about whether or not you should access some personal information using a Public Wi-Fi network, the best option is always to wait until you are using your own secure network. Waiting for a secure network is your best line of defense against hackers.

Questions? Comments? We want to hear from you! Don't hesitate to send us an email or give us a call.