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Is Free Wi-Fi Safe?

Is Free Wi-Fi Safe?

One of the cool things about modern-day computing is the availability of Wi-Fi for your mobile computing devices.  No more dialing in to a slow telephone line.  No more quickly using up your mobile carrier’s data allotment.  We can stop at our local coffee-house or fast food restaurant and immediately have access to free Wi-Fi.locked laptop

Depending on local communication laws or company policy, you may not have to even log in with an account.  In other words just accept the Wi-Fi network, maybe click “yes” to its terms and you are online.

In this case, there’s no accountability of your identity to the owner of the Wi-Fi.  Now, there are technical ways to identity your device, but that’s a topic for another blog.

As long as you are surfing around the Internet for news and music it’s great to have free Wi-Fi instead of occurring those 3G/4G carrier data charges.  However, what if you are using popular social media sites or checking your bank balance or paying bills online?

Free Wi-Fi is not safe

I won’t get overly technical here, but basically when you are using free Wi-Fi your data is not safe from prying eyes.  The person next to you could be “sniffing” everything you submit.  When you type in your credit card number, bank account number, pin or password, it’s broadcast out via the wireless card in your device to the Wi-Fi router.  It may or may not be encrypted.

Not only that, a cyber criminal in the back room of the restaurant could be “hacking” or “sniffing” your data as it’s received to the router.  None of us in Internet  marketing or other businesses want our customer’s credit card information handed over to some criminal element.

Best practice is never do credit card transactions or bill paying on free Wi-Fi.  In fact be wary of doing any transmissions that would be considered very personal or confidential.  Save those for secure connections.

Wi-Fi Safety Tips

There are a few basic things you can do to limit your vulnerability when using public Wi-Fi.

1.  Turn off “sharing”.  Many people don’t realize that file or printer sharing may be turned on by default on their computer.

2.  Make sure you are using a software firewall.  Both Windows and Macs come with firewall software.

3.  Make sure to have a good anti-virus and anti-malware software installed on your computer, and that includes Macs.

4. Be sure to use good, hard to guess passwords for your programs and websites, especially sites like online banking.  A password manager is also a good idea.

5.  Don’t forget you need a good password for your computer user account.  This is your computer login password. Many people overlook this and just use a family name or something simple.  When sharing a network, like free Wi-Fi, the person next to you only needs to guess your login password to gain access to your hard drive.

6.  Be wary of network names like “Free Wi-Fi”.  Check with the establishment for the correct name of their sponsored free network.

There are numerous other technical tips for securing your device. Take the safe road and just refrain from doing private work on public Wi-Fi networks.

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By James Ball
james@jamesballblog.com USA

 

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