By: Larry Farris, Staff Writer
Public networks are convenient, free…and dangerous. The old advice for these networks was “Never do anything containing private information,” but with our reliance on mobile devices steadily increasing, that becomes more difficult. We are always releasing private data one way or the other. There are workarounds and these few tricks can shield your data from prying eyes.
Common Sense Strategies
There are a few strategies that are attractive because they are free and obvious. Despite this, it is surprising how many users don’t consider them. The first is checking the name of the connection. If you pop into a store and see an anonymous name like “Free Wifi Here” or “Public Wifi-No Cost” that should set off some red flags. Ask a store associate the name of the free Wifi connection first before connection. Counterfeit versions are hackers trolling for suckers.
Those of using laptops should turn off “sharing” and turn on the “firewall” (although your firewall should be on at all times). If you don’t know what these terms mean, do not use your device until you find out.
Virtual Private Networks (VPN): A Costly but Concrete Solution
If you find yourself using open Wifi on a daily basis, then a VPN might be the solution for you. A VPN uses the connection on a public network, but allows your data to pass completely encrypted. Besides data security, a VPN can also allow you to access sites normally blocked or banned by public networks. The downside to VPN is the cost; typically these can cost a few dollars a month or up to $75 a year, depending on the software.
Stay Anonymous with an Anonymizer
Although a favorite of hackers worldwide, average consumers can benefit from an anonymizer, which hides the location and identify of a browser. On a public network, this prevents a would-be attacker from gaining access to your device’s information. Another feature consumers find useful is the ability to hide data from trackers, making your presence on the Internet truly anonymous.
HTTP vs. HTTPS?
No doubt, you have noticed the little “http” prefix in the beginning of every page URL. Although this might not mean much to the average computer user, that little prefix is the backbone of the Internet.
So what’s “https”? It’s a connection that instantly and easily encrypts all your data. That little bit of protection is enough to turn away all but the most persistent hackers. Those of you using Chrome or Firefox can easily take advantage of this add-on security by applying the free and unobtrusive extension “HTTPS Everywhere” to your browser.
Don’t Just Assume You’ll Be Fine
Whether transmitting business data or shopping for a new cell phone case, all that innocent data you beam out over a wireless network can be gold to a determined hacker. Most consumers think little of it and assume it won’t happen to them, but it can and will, and the consequences can be serious. Taking a few extra minutes to create a single layer of protection over your public Wifi usage is all it takes to dissuade data theft.