According to a 2013 report by Norton Security, a staggering 68% of public internet wi-fi users are victims of a cybercrime annually . You should never assume a public wi-fi hotspot is secure and if a WPA or WPA2 password is not required, it probably isn't secure. Hackers often create fake or rogue wi-fi hotspots in an effort to get between you and the websites or servers you want to access. Once you join the rogue hotspot they can easily siphon off all the information they want.
The following are things you can do to protect your personal information while using public internet or free wi-fi hotspots:
1. Keep Internet Security Software on all Devices Updated!
One of the best lines of protection available to safe guard personal information from potential hackers is to maintain current antivirus and malware software on your technology. Good security software such as Norton Security, will prevent known threats from having access to your information and the malware software will scan files on your computer and all files downloaded. In fact, Norton promises to keep your computers virus free or they will refund* your money. *Restrictions apply. Must purchase, renew, or upgrade your Norton subscription, or enroll in Automatic Renewal Service online. See Norton.com/guarantee for details.
If you don't think you need internet security software think again. An encryption flaw called the Heartbleed bug revealed a vulnerability in several popular websites from Yahoo, Airbnb, Nasa, and OKCupid may end up being the largest security threat the internet has ever seen. If you logged into one of the affected sites your password and credit card information may have been compromised. If you believe your information may have been at risk, change sensitive passwords immediately and contact your financial institution. The Web Vulnerability Stats graphic, courtesy of Symantec, illustrates how once hackers became aware of the vulnerability a surge of attacks occurred. What is more important is that having internet security software such as Norton Security by Symantec, provides you with the comfort of knowing that your personal information and data is being protected 24/7 by a security industry leader. Norton has been creating solutions to internet security threats for 25 years and recently awarded a AAA rating and 100% accuracy from Dennis Labs, the results of a test that is ” carried out in a realistic way, closely reflecting a customer's experience.” (Dennis Labs, 2014)
2. Don't Enter Sensitive Information While Using Public Internet & Free Wi-Fi
Now that you know that many free public wi-fi hotspots are not secure you understand that it is necessary to take extra precautions to protect sensitive information that may be intercepted. Avoid paying bills, making online purchases, or accessing any financial account information while using public wi-fi. This is just the kind of information hackers are after and sending financial information over an unsecured internet connection is asking for trouble.
3. Install Force-TLS and HTTPS-Everywhere Browser add-ons
TLS or Transport Layer Security is a communication protocol that replaced Secured Sockets Layer (SSL) and encrypts data sent via email. While using public wi-fi you should always use sites that are encrypted or begin with https: in the url address instead of http. Using only https sites will ensure your internet browsing is being encrypted and not visible on an unsecured hotspot. Internet browser software such as Chrome and Firefox have add-ons that you can download to encrypt data and force websites to use the https encryption protocol.
4. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) When Possible
Using a virtual private network or VPN, is often required when accessing your employers website. A VPN is always a good idea to provide and extra layer of protection if you are a frequent user of public wi-fi. Even if a hacker does manage to intercept your traffic on a VPN they likely will not be able to decrypt the data.
5. Don't Join Wireless Networks Automatically
Changing the wireless connection settings on your smartphone or computer to require you to manually connect to wi-fi hotspots gives you more control over which networks to join. Just because you have joined the same network at the local coffee shop before doesn't mean that it is a secure connection. Next time you want to use a wi-fi hotspot check out what type of encryption is being used by clicking on the network name and verifying that it requires a WPA2 password.
By taking a few precautions as discussed above, you can have peace of mind while surfing the internet using public wi-fi.