How to keep your online information secure while using public Wi-Fi

By Chris San Filippo

Public Wi-Fi networks, connecting us from our computers, tablets, phones, and technologies are being offered by more companies every day. Working from coffee shops, checking social media from restaurants or malls, or connecting to Wi-Fi from a hotel or another public-facing business are commonplace these days. But with the amount of personal data stored on our online accounts, how can you safeguard your information from any prying eyes?

Opt for a semi-open network instead of completely open, or create a hotspot
Semi-open networks require the user to enter an email address or to click through their terms and services before allowing access. Some internet service providers (ISPs) have begun to offer public hotspots to their customers for free, or to other users for a small fee. Due to the extra security to weed out the false users and internet robots, these semi-open networks are inherently more secure than those that allow instant connection for free. As well, semi-open networks boast a quicker internet speed due to less widespread public usage. Alternatively, using your phone to create a hotspot to connect your laptop or another mobile device to the internet is the safest way to access the internet in public as you are using your private connection.

Use a VPN service
What is a VPN and how can it help you? VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. There are several types of VPNs, each of which takes your outgoing data and channel it through an encrypted tunnel or a set of proxy servers to hide the traffic from you to the internet, making it appear as though the VPN is initiating the exchange rather than you. This exchange results in ciphertext, which is the garbled product of encryption. Ciphertext coming from the VPN can’t be read by third parties, which gives your connection more security than should you proceed without using a VPN. As an added bonus, many VPN providers also include anti-malware or anti-spyware in their software for extra protection.

Enable your Firewall
Although a VPN will successfully block most unwanted attention while you browse the internet, a backup protective service is the built-in Firewall in the browser you use. Turning the Firewall on can help to prevent third parties from spying on your data, as it acts as a barrier between a trusted network and an untrusted network. While turning on your Firewall, you can also select which applications can access your information by clicking either the “advanced” or “allow a program or feature” options.

Use websites that have HTTPS or SSL connections
Using sites that are hosted on an HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure), which supports an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) connection, can provide extra security while you use public Wi-Fi. You will notice a green lock icon appear in the URL bar of the browser you are using, which indicates that the interactions between the site and your browser are encrypted and secured over an unsecure network, such as public Wi-Fi.

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