WiFi security is a matter of concern, especially when the holiday season approaches and more time is spent away from home. During these days the use of public access WiFi networks increases significantly. Shops, airports, restaurants, hotels, town halls, etc., make public Internet connections available to customers and visitors for which there is no information about the implemented security, nor is it known which other users are connected to the same network.
Depending on where you are, the connection may be direct free access, for example, in the case of town halls, or password protected, as is usual in restaurant businesses. Wireless networks have become a precious commodity. For this reason, the use of public or free networks without preventive measures can generate some risks. Let’s see some of them and how to use public WiFi safely.
Security risks in public WiFi
When accessing the Internet, private and sensitive information is sent and received, such as usernames, passwords, emails, bank information… When access is made from a public WiFi, it is not possible to know which other users are connected, which gives greater freedom to those who want to spy on the information that is sent. Above all, if platforms and web pages without security certificates are used, that is, they are not HTTPS.
Another security risk of public WiFi networks is that, in the event that the device being used has a security problem, a malicious user with advanced knowledge could access the computer, tablet or mobile. To avoid this inconvenience, it is recommended to have the equipment updated with the latest software version (both the operating system and the apps) and to take a series of precautions when connecting. Let’s see what they are.
How to safely use free WiFi
According to Tim Berghoff, cybersecurity expert at G DATA Software, “Wi-Fi access points in airports and hotels are becoming the target of cyberattacks these days, as they are rarely properly protected and cybercriminals can easily intercept the data traffic that circulates through them, from passwords to credit cards and all kinds of personal information. For this reason, tourists should absolutely avoid shopping and banking online via public Wi-Fi networks.”
How to connect safely to WiFi?
The first piece of advice to keep in mind is that, if you have a choice, it is always advisable to connect to a password-protected free Wi-Fi, for example, that of a hotel, than to an “open” Wi-Fi without any type of protection, with free access without password.
The wireless security protocols are, from lowest to highest security level: WEP, WPA, WPA2 and WPA3.
You can check the security protocol of the connected WiFi on your device, for example, for example, on a Windows 10 laptop, by accessing “Control Panel” > “Network and Internet” > “Network and Sharing Center”. Click on the name of the connected network and in the pop-up tab select the “Security” tab:
On a mobile either Android or iOS, depending on the model, you can check the WiFi security encryption in “Settings” > “WIFI” > “Name of the connected network” or “Settings” > “Connections” > “WIFI” > “ Name of the connected network”.
The recommendation is to always use a network whose security encryption is at least WPA2.
Protect your device
When connecting safely to a public Wi-Fi, keep in mind:
Laptop, mobile or tablet, as we said, always use an updated device! The latest versions of operating systems and apps often resolve security issues found in older ones.
Once you’ve connected to a network, your device saves data on your connections and, unless you tell it otherwise, will automatically reconnect when it’s available.
If you have used free or open WiFi, it is recommended that you remove this automatic connection so that the device asks for the password again before reconnecting. To do this, on an Android device go to “Settings” > “WiFi”, click on the name of the network you want to delete and select “Forget”.
Another option is to disable the option to automatically switch between mobile networks (the connection with your data rate) and WiFi. In this way you will always have to manually select the type of connection you want, displaying the available network when choosing the wireless connection. You will also find this option on Android devices in “Settings” > “WiFi”.
Browse safely on open WiFi
To increase your security when browsing using a free wireless connection, take the following precautionary measures:
- Whenever they are available, connect to pages with a security certificate (HTTPS).
- Avoid making online purchases, economic transactions or other types of operations that require the introduction of credentials (username and password).
- Use “Private”, “Incognito” or “InPrivate” browsing, depending on your browser, to eliminate the trace of the pages you have visited.
- In applications such as Facebook, Twitter or Gmail, enable 2-step authentication or double verification to prevent someone else from using your account.
- Log out whenever you access any service, for example, email.
- Do not provide sensitive information through social networks, emails or instant messaging services.
- Install and enable firewalls that do not allow external connections to your device.
- Use an antivirus and always keep it updated.
- Disable background task sync without your involvement while connected to a public network. Even if you have a “ cleaner app ” installed.
Finally, when you connect to Wi-Fi in a public space, remember that there may be people around you who are watching your screen, especially if you use a laptop. Protect yourself from looks when entering passwords or sending sensitive information.