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Using Public WiFi Safely: What you Need to Know

25 September, 2018

Have you ever found yourself visiting a client for a coffee and felt the need to connect to public WiFi? If you are working from home or on the go, make sure to consider how you connect to the internet and the networks available.

A router is often what connects your laptop and devices through public networks, while you may understand the importance of protecting your device with a password, it is less likely you know the risks of using public WiFi.

Free WiFi access points are readily available at most restaurants, hotels, airports, shops and even shopping centres. Though it allows you quick and easy access to the internet, there is no guarantee that the network is secure and other users can’t interfere or see the communication between your device and their router.

What are the risks of using public WiFi?

What is easy to remember is what makes a WiFi hotspot desirable for you will also make it desirable for cyber criminals. Public WiFi that requires no password or authentication to establish a connection between your device and the web. It’s easy to remember that when you open a door, you allow traffic both in and out - that goes not just for the router you are connected to, but for your devices too.

How do cyber criminals hack public WiFi?

Cyber criminals can easily position themselves between you and the router. This becomes easy to hide as they can appear like you are connecting straight to the connection point. However, you are unknowingly sending your information to the cyber criminals, who then relays the connection on and intercepts all the information that flows between. Passwords, emails, bank details, security credentials, access to organisations accounts and networks all potentially at risk from connecting to a public WiFi hotspot.

Cyber criminals also commonly use unsecured WiFi to spread malware and ransomware, if you allow file-sharing across the network on your device, it becomes easy to infect and distribute the malicious code.

What precautions can you take to keep your information safe?

There are a few different precautions you can take to prevent your information being accessed using a public WiFi hotspot or network.

  • Install and use a VPN (virtual private networks) are a must for connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots from business devices. With a VPN communication will be encrypted between your device and the router
  • Use SSL/ https’ websites - This adds a layer of encryption to your communication and secures any entered credentials from being intercepted.
  • Turn off file-sharing with others on the network
  • Turn WiFi off when you don’t need it and don’t let it automatically connect to WiFi hotspots
  • Install anti-virus and firewalls
  • Be cautious about connecting to public WiFi networks

What is Friendly Wifi?

Here at Bob's Business, we support Friendly Wifi, the world’s first safe certification standard for public WiFi and the only symbol that shows that the WiFi service that is being used blocks out indecent and inappropriate material.

Michael Davies, a representative of  Friendly Wifi, said: "When using WiFi, most people don’t want to accidentally stumble across a site that shows images that could be offensive or just not pleasant to see, or be happily browsing and see someone close to them looking at such material – suddenly that comfortable and safe feeling disappears.  For adults, this provides a nice environment but for our kids and teenagers who are increasingly using their phones, having this safety net is essential."

"As parents and families, the last thing you want is for the material you would be uncomfortable with to be seen by your kids so look out for the Friendly WiFi symbol and encourage your teenagers to do the same.  Seeing the symbol present will also provide peace of mind that the venue takes your online safety seriously and that it is no place for online predators."

How to Stay Protected on Public WiFi

It’s essential always to have an up to date and activated antivirus and firewall on your organisation's devices. The pieces of software can continuously run in the background.  Antivirus should always scan new files as they are downloading. Make sure that you be cautious about connecting to public Wi-Fi when mobile working. You can find more tips and training about working securely on the go in our Mobile Working course, part of our leading cyber security courses

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