The Internet is everywhere: neighborhood cafés, bookstores, even your local car dealership. At many of these public places, there is free Wi-Fi for your use. You can work or play on the Internet while you wait, eat or just hang out. Free Wi-Fi may seem harmless enough, but before you connect, you should know all the security risks involved when using Wi-Fi hotspots — especially if you’re going to be using online banking — and what you can do to protect yourself.
- Wi-Fi hotspots are never secure. No matter where you access a Wi-Fi hotspot, it is always an unsecured connection, meaning you and potential hackers could be surfing the same Internet wave. Even if the hotspot requires a password or login, you are still at risk. You should take advantage of your operating system’s built-in security features. Be sure to enable your firewall (through security settings) and enable “Block all incoming traffic.” You should also disable any file-sharing capability while using a hotspot.
- Look for the padlock. Websites that use https:// (as opposed to http://) encrypt your activity; therefore, anything you do on that site is confidential.
- Use the right Wi-Fi network. Check with an employee of the establishment to make sure you’re logging in to the correct network. Some hackers set up fake networks like “FREE Public Wi-Fi” or use the name of the venue as a way to access your information.
- Update your anti-virus and anti-spyware software. You never want to be ‘unarmed’ when you’re using a Wi-Fi hotspot. Make sure your anti-virus and anti-spyware software programs are updated, and if something seems wrong when you’re using the Internet, get offline as soon as possible. Don’t take a chance with your information.
- Use common sense. You should treat all open networks as security risks. Online banking or online shopping while on a public Wi-Fi network is also a security risk and isn’t recommended. The rule of thumb to consider is, if you aren’t willing to share the information with the public, it is wise to simply wait until you get home (or do it with the secure network of your phone).