Nowadays you find WiFi networks you can access easily everywhere…in coffee shops, restaurants and hotels, shopping centres, even out in the open street in major city centres, such as Cork.

This is very welcome and also a great asset.  It means that we can go online from our mobile phones, tablet or laptops, indeed any portable device, in most places at any time.

The problem, however, is security.

What is WiFi?

WiFi is a local area wireless technology that allows electronic devices to connect to each other.  Many devices, such as tablets, smartphones and digital audio players, are WiFi connectable.  They link to a network (such as the internet) via a wireless network access point, otherwise known as a hotspot.

Security problems with WiFi?

WiFi can be less secure than wired connections.  This is simply because an intruder does not need a physical connection.

Most of us are good at protecting our computers at home, using firewalls to prevent cyber-criminals from accessing our information and anti-virus software to reduce our chances of becoming infected with a computer virus or other malware.

The same threats are present when you access the internet using a public WiFi network.  The added problem is that you can never be sure whether a particular network or hotspot is secure.

Most public WiFi networks do not use encryption, a form of security in which the information you send is encoded so it cannot by read by a third party.

In addition, you don’t even need a password to get connected to most public WiFi networks, which means that they are open to anyone in the area including your friendly local cyber-thief.

Logging into your bank account or other personal accounts over an unsecured WiFi network can be particularly dangerous as your log in details could easily be read by a hacker, who will then be in a position to clean out your bank account or impersonate you using your personal details.

Protection on a public WiFi network

As you can see, using public WiFi networks can be quite risky, however, you can make yourself relatively secure on public WiFi networks if you follow these tips:

  • Whatever device you use to access the internet, check that your anti-virus and anti-malware software is up to date and turned on.
  • To make it more difficult for an attacker to gain access, make sure your firewall is turned on.
  • Turn off sharing when you are on a public network.  This will keep others from accessing your computer and files.  You can turn it off in the Control Panel (Windows) or System preferences (Mac OS X).
  • Avoid logging on to banking and shopping sites where, to do so, you have to enter personal and financial information.  You should only do online banking or shopping over a trusted connection, such as a home network you know is protected.
  • Go to sites with URLs that begin with “https” instead of “http”, as https sites use encryption to protect the information you send.
  • Avoid automatically connecting to hotspots.  Doing so will reduce your chances of being connected to a malicious hotspot set up to steal information.  As before, you can do this from the Control Panel (Windows) or Systems preferences (Mac OS X).
  • If you use public WiFi a lot, a good idea would be to use a virtual private network (VPN).  A VPN is like a private network which you can access from anywhere.  But you need to subscribe to a VPN service for which there is a monthly fee.  However, a VPN is a smart choice for businesses, large and small.

This article was written by Paul D Kennedy of Jupiter Support – www.jupitersupport.ie