Free But Risky: 8 Security Tips for Public Wi-Fi Users
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Danger often comes from an unexpected direction. For example, while you are alert to pickpockets, criminals may be approaching invisibly, over Wi-Fi.
With the current move of the government to make Wi-Fi available nationwide, global cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab says Filipinos need to raise their guards up to protect their online safety.
Once the Senate Bill 1277 or Free Internet Access in Public Places Act is signed into law, all government offices and public facilities such as schools, transport terminals, hospitals, and public libraries nationwide will have free internet access.
“An open, free internet network is like a double-edged sword, it’s free but also definitely risky. It’s perfectly fine to feel excited about the anticipated public Wi-Fis in the entire Philippines. But we urge Filipinos to be very cautious, too. We would encourage them to first arm themselves with cyber savvy habits and knowledge to stay safe in a free network,” says Sylvia Ng, General Manager at Kaspersky Lab Southeast Asia.
With the prevalence of free networks, criminals set up fake free Wi-Fi networks, which users pay with a hefty price — their login credentials stolen from them.
Since it is difficult to spot these fake free networks, the best advice is to avoid using public Wi-Fi at all and to connect to the internet from home or via mobile only.
While this is Kaspersky Lab’s best advice, it is not practical in every circumstance or situation. So here are simple tips to protect themselves from free Wi-Fi threats:
1. Never trust open Wi-Fi networks that require no passwords. Cybercriminals often create such networks to sniff users personal data.
2. Networks with passwords are not fully reliable as well. A criminal can easily find out the password, which is used in a cafe or a shopping mall, and create a fake Wi-Fi hotspot with the same name.
3. Turn Wi-Fi off when you don’t use it. This measure will protect your data and help you save the battery life on your device. Check if your device is not setup to automatically connect to an unknown Wi-Fi network. If yes, turn it off. This measure will also protect you from tracking methods used by different organizations.
For example, when you go through a shopping mall with active Wi-Fi, your phone is searching for all available networks. Therewith the device transmits its unique MAC address. Each Wi-Fi access point that receives a request from your phone can log these data.
On the base of this information marketing specialists often make maps of their clients routes to find out, which goods attracted them. For example, if you’ve stopped to tie your shoes near a perfume shop, be ready: soon you’ll see a few ads that promote expensive toilet water.
4. The bare necessities. When using public Wi-Fi network do not open your bank account or any other important services. Opt for using your mobile connection.
5. HTTPS only. Some websites support https, which encrypts anything you send and receive from the website. For example, Google, Wikipedia and Facebook can do this — if you can, activate this setting for all important services.
6. Advice for Google Chrome, Firefox and Opera users: if you travel a lot and go online from your laptop in cafes, hotels and other public places, install a special browser plugin, which enables safe internet access.
We can recommend HTTPS Everywhere from Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). By default it provides secured connection with Yahoo, Ebay, Amazon and some other sites. You can also add other web resources manually.
7. Consider using a virtual private network, or VPN. It’s a good method to protect your data, as a VPN service encrypts everything you send.
Usually a VPN connection is paid but you can google for free plans. For example, give a try to ProXPN, Cyber Ghost, Your Freedom and HotSpot Shield. These providers offer free basic plans, but with speed limits. Flatrate together with several other interesting features cost several dollars per month.
By the way, VPN has an additional benefits: it provides you with the access to the censored resources at your country and abroad (if you somehow need it).
8. Install a reliable security solution! For example, Kaspersky Internet Security will warn you when you connect to unreliable network and won’t let your passwords leak to cybercriminals.
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