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How to Protect Yourself on a Public Network

Picture of laptop with code on the screen.Wi-Fi networks allow people to wirelessly connect many different devices to the Internet. Smartphones, gaming consoles, tablets, and laptops; using an open public or unlocked network is certainly a convenience. Unfortunately, because Wi-Fi networks are simple to setup many choose to install their own networks at home or work without implementing the proper security measures. For example, using free Wi-Fi at coffee houses, the airport, or the mall is nice but it leaves your devices vulnerable and experienced hackers could end up with access to your personal data. Fortunately, measures can be taken to prevent a situation like this from happening.

Top Tips for Staying Secure

Here are a few steps to help you stay secure if using open public networks…

  • Turn off Sharing: Many smartphones and apps have the option to enable sharing. This can allow you to remotely access different devices or files such as printers, computers, or collection libraries. If you connect to a public server be sure to turn these settings off so others cannot access you information as well.
  • Look for HTTPS and SSL: If you use public networks check out the websites you are using. Try to only use websites that begin with HTTPS the ‘S’ standing for secure; you can also look for the green padlock in the left corner which indicates the same thing. You can also enable SSL when using applications that access the internet such as an email client. These options encrypt your data as it’s passed between the web server and your devices.
  • Enable Firewalls: Enabling your firewall is a great way to help protect your data. Mac systems come with a built-in firewall but for Windows you should verify that it is turned on. You can find your firewall settings under  System Preferences –> Security & Privacy on a Mac; for Windows got to Control Panel –> System and Security.
  • Turn off Auto-Connect: When your devices are roaming, the settings can automatically connect you to different Hot Spots. You can disable this feature in the settings options on your smartphones so that you can manually select the Wi-Fi spots you use.
  • Stay Updated: Be sure to keep your devices up to date. Out-of-date apps and software can leave you an open target for cyber crime. An easy way to keep updated without much hassle is to enable automatic updates in your computer’s settings.
  • Use Multi-Factor Authentication: Enabling Multi-Factor (also know as Two-Step) Authentication increases your security exponentially. This allows users to have multiple ways for verifying that whoever is using their accounts are permitted. Usually in the form of a text message or email, an additional code is required on top of the original password to access sensitive information. Many accounts have the option to enable Multi-Factor (check out Gmail’s setup here.)
  • Monitor Your Use: It’s important to be wary of the types of websites and apps you use on public servers. While connected to easily accessible websites do your best not to go to websites that require you to input passwords. The most important of these being banking apps, if someone was able to get into those accounts it could be quite catastrophic for the victim.
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