Having access to free Wi-Fi is almost a necessity for most of us, especially when we are traveling. And since people are spending more and more time checking their smartphones, and especially their social networks, the desire to have Internet access while you are walking your dog or traveling to work is pretty common these days.
It may not be perceived as a great danger to connect your phone to a free Wi-Fi hotspot for a minute or two, to check your email or update your Facebook status, but the sad reality is that an attacker will only need a few seconds to break into your phone, and then get access to your passwords and files.
Our strong recommendation is to avoid free Wi-Fi hotspots whenever it is possible to do that. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you won’t ever encounter similar problems with paid Internet access, but their incidence is much smaller whenever you are paying for service. Still, if you really need to connect to a free Wi-Fi hotspot, there are several things that you can do to prevent your information from being stolen.
First of all, make sure that your device isn’t sharing anything with anyone. Sure, there are several apps that want to help you share things with friends, but they are also the perfect apps for hackers that are trying to break into your phone or tablet. So before connecting to a public Wi-Fi hotspot, be sure to disable all the apps that want to share data with the outside world.
Limit your navigation to secure sites. Most sites use the secure https protocol these days, and big companies like Google and Facebook help you connect securely to their websites. Still, this doesn’t mean that all the websites that show up in Google search results are secure – quite the opposite!
Secure sites display a lock while you are visiting them. So be sure to check which sites are secure before leaving your home, and then stick with them while you’re gone.
Use a VPN to secure your traffic. VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network” and it’s a system that encrypts the connection between your device and the destination website.
These days you can install free antiviruses on most devices, including tablets and smartphones. So be sure to find the best free or paid antivirus that you can afford to install, and then make sure that it is active. Researchers from Data Alliance state that only 20% of the US citizens install antiviruses on their mobile devices.
Stay away from hotspots that have fishy names. Often times, hackers try to lure unsuspecting victims by setting up hotspots with legitimate looking names. If you are in a restaurant and you see a Wi-Fi hotspot which has the restaurant name, it may be quite safe to assume that the hotspot is owned by the company behind the restaurant. However, if you see a Wi-Fi network that claims to belong to a big company (Starbucks, etc.) which doesn’t have any headquarters in the area, it may be set up by potential attackers.
This is a common sense idea, but I’ll mention it anyway: don’t log into your precious accounts while you are using a free hotspot. Don’t use public Wi-Fi to check your bank account, for example. If you really need to check your email, it’s much better to create a temporary email account while you are traveling, and then forward your email from the main account(s) to it.