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Are public WiFi’s Safe?

A friend of mine and I were together at a venue, and I asked him if he was able to get on the local free Wifi that was provided. He said, “I usually don’t go on public wifi because I don’t think it’s secure.” This article describes what I told him I thought the real risks were so he could decide if he could use it safely.

First, when connecting a Windows PC to public WiFi, the computer will ask what kind of network you are connecting to. It usually offers three choices: Public, Home, and Work. What you choose here makes a big difference in how secure your computer will be as it adjusts the firewall along with controlling your file-sharing features. Always select the public type when connecting to a public WiFi.

Second, I explained that as long as whatever he was doing had a secure connection, denoted HTTPS: in the address bar, then the communications between his computer or phone and the web server are encrypted. Having HTTPS before the address in the browser means that anything he typed into the browser and sent on a form or anything he read from the site would not be observable to a third party. Sure, someone could intercept the transmission and look at it, but they would see gibberish. Hackers can snoop unencrypted communication that is without the S on the end of the HTTP in the address bar very easily. This allows them to see things like your login name and password in plain text. They can use this information to log into your account at will and wreak all kinds of havoc. So, make sure what you do on public Wi-Fi is encrypted.

Third and perhaps most importantly, I explained that any real danger from using public wifi comes from poor security on your end. In other words, if the device you are using to access the public WiFi is not correctly configured and secure, you are at risk of threats.  What kind of security problems can leave you vulnerable?  Well, here are a few examples:

  1. Your computer’s firewall is turned off
  2. You fail to identify open WiFi as a public type of network
  3. Your computer is not up to date with the latest security patches
  4. Your computer’s antivirus is not up to date.

I told my friend, he can use the WiFi safely as long as he’s made sure that the necessary security requirements of his computer have been taken care of and the sites he’s communicating with use a secure protocol. 

To be even more secure and private, you can use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) which holds all your communications inside an encrypted tunnel. Not only does a VPN provide excellent security for your PC but it protects you from honeypots as well, but we’ll save that for another blog article. 

Do you feel safe using public Wi-Fi? Have you had any concerns or bad experiences with public Wi-Fi? Please feel free to comment below, and we’ll discuss!

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