Many consumers struggle with the double-edged sword of free public Wi-Fi. On the one hand, it is free Wi-Fi and that means the precious few GB of monthly bandwidth accorded to you by your cellular provider will be protected. On the other hand, public Wi-Fi is notoriously unsafe and easily hacked if not running a more up-to-date encryption protocol. The choice becomes use the limited resource or tempt fate and hope that this Wi-Fi hotspot isn't frequented by nefarious computer savants.
Let's make that choice easier. There are several simple steps any user may take that will increase the security of their Wi-Fi connection. Follow along, make a few changes, and feel a little better about tempting the hacker drinking coffee two seats away.
I get it. At home, you share resource between devices in order to keep everything centralized and available. Enabling sharing makes your life easier and its no big deal behind your home firewall. However, using a public Wi-Fi connection with sharing still enabled is a very bad idea. In some cases, having sharing enabled while connected to a public Wi-Fi will allow access to files and folders on your PC without needing to be hacked. Rule number one of using a public Wi-Fi is to disable sharing.
To disable sharing on your Windows PC, first open up your control panel. Next select Network and Internet, followed by Network and Sharing Center. Then, from Homegroup and Sharing Options, select Advanced Sharing settings. At this point you should disable public folder sharing, file and printer sharing, and network discovery.
Enable A Firewall
Firewalls provide a wall of security that, at their worst, slow down malicious attacks while informing the user of the nature of the issue. At their best, a firewall can be a bulwark against any and all incursions into your PC. Luckily for you, most operating systems include basic firewall protections.
At the very least, always enable your firewall when you plan on connecting to a public Wi-Fi hotspot. Its even easy to find, just open your control panel, access System and Security, and then open up Windows Firewall.
Browsing the web on an unsecure Wi-Fi network is chancy enough as it is, if you plan on only browsing and consuming content. As soon as you decide to log-in to a site or access private information, the stakes are raised. Now you are sending passwords through a public network that anyone can sniff out if they choose to. Make sure the sites you are logging into are SSL encrypted or wait until you get home.
SSL encryption on a website is indicated by the URL prefix, HTTPS. Many of today's browsers will also include special notifications when visiting a secured website or when a website's security certificates have expired. Do not send private information, such as passwords, account names, or personal information, though a non-SSL encrypted site.
Turn It Off
If you are finished accessing the public Wi-Fi hotspot, disconnect from it. When you leave a room, you turn the light off. The same thing goes for the hotspot. There is no need to stay connected to a public network when you are done using it. Leaving the connection active allows a hacker more time to work into your system, more time to steal your information, and more time to infect your machine.
Turning off a Wi-Fi connection is simple in Windows. Locate the wireless icon in your system tray and right-click it. Then highlight the public Wi-Fi connection by left-clicking on it and then slick Disconnect.