Jul 8, 2016

Protect Yourself from Cyberthieves When Using Public Wi-Fi Networks

Nine out of ten Americans expose themselves to the risk of public Wi-Fi networks at least once a month, and more than four out of 10 connect at least once a week. According to Avast estimates, hackers use public Wi-Fi networks to attack millions of Americans a day.

If you're using public Wi-Fi networks, here are some things you need to know to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft.

Why Public Wi-Fi Networks Are Vulnerable

Public Wi-Fi networks are vulnerable because they rely on radio waves to transmit information, explains internet security provider Norton. Just as more than one person can tune into the same radio station, cyberthieves can intercept your Wi-Fi broadcasts.

Criminals wait near public Wi-Fi hotspots in order to stalk victims. Some even set up their own networks with names such as "Free Public Wi-Fi" in order to lure unsuspecting victims. You can become exposed to this type of risk whether you're logging into a public Wi-Fi network from a coffee shop, a library, your workplace, an airport, an Airbnb or anywhere else.

Protecting Yourself on Public Wi-Fi Networks

The FTC offers a few tips to protect yourself when using Wi-Fi public networks. The first key is to use only encrypted public networks or websites. A secure wireless network that uses encryption protects all information you send over that network, while an encrypted website protects only the information sent from that site.

Most public Wi-Fi networks aren't encrypted. The most secure encrypted networks currently use a security protocol known as WPA2. Other security protocols are WEP and WPA, which are common but have more vulnerabilities than WPA2. Adjust the settings on your mobile device so that you don't automatically log into local public networks.

An encrypted website's URL starts with an "https" extension instead of an "http" extension. Sometimes only part of a site is encrypted. If you suddenly notice you're on a page that isn't encrypted, log out. When visiting sites, don't stay logged into an account permanently, but log out when you're done. Use strong passwords with a mixture of capital and small letters, numbers and symbols, and don't use the same passwords on multiple sites.

Pay attention if your browser gives you a warning about a site that may be hacked or that is trying to download a malicious program. You can use add-ons or plug-ins such as Firefox's Force-TLS and HTTPS-Everywhere to force websites to use encryption.

Most mobile apps don't use encryption or don't use encryption properly, so when using mobile apps, it's best to use an encrypted network.

One way to make sure your network is encrypted is to use a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs encrypt information you send and receive even if you're using an insecure network. You can get a VPN from your Internet provider and from your employer at some companies. VPN options are also available for mobile devices and apps.

You should also be on guard against "shoulder surfers" trying to watch or film what you type when you log in. To stop shoulder surfing, turn your screen away from vulnerable viewing angles or use a laptop privacy screen.

Protecting Your Home Wi-Fi Network

The FTC also cautions that you should make sure your home wireless network is secure from nearby neighbors and hackers. You can protect your home network by using encryption at home as well. You can also limit your network to specific devices and take steps to secure your router.

Change your router's default names and passwords to something more secure, turn off remote management features, log out as administrator and keep your router up to date. Make sure your computer is protected by a firewall and antivirus program. Finally, use strong passwords for your mobile devices and apps.

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