Public Wi-Fi is a convenient way to check Facebook, browse the internet or send an email while on the go without putting a dent in your cellular data plan. (Bonus tip: Use this free app to find Wi-Fi anywhere you go.) Unfortunately, if a hacker is on the same network, it gives them a good chance to snoop on what you're doing or even take over your accounts.
Aside from hackers, the government and internet service providers can also monitor your connection to see where you go, and, if they want, what you do. If you aren't a fan of that, and few people are, there is a way you can keep these parties out of your business.
First, there are important settings you should always be using.
Three little words - Always use backup
Three other words; two-factor authentication! How many times have you heard this one? Well, we will keep drilling it in until you use it for everything. Two-factor authentication is the best way to prevent hackers from stealing your passwords and getting into your accounts.
If you need a refresher, two-factor authentication is simply a two-step login process that uses a computer-generated login password that cannot be stolen by a hacker.
First, you log in using your normal password.
The system then sends you a text, email, or sometimes even a voice call that provides you with a 4-8 digit number.
Finally, you enter this number into your account to complete the authentication process.
The idea is that unless the hacker also has stolen your smartphone, or otherwise compromised your email, they will not be able to receive the second password. Additionally, you will be alerted that such an attempt has been made to log into one of your accounts.
Encryption is your friend
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a service that provides users with an encrypted connection that is routed through one of the VPN's servers. By encrypting your connection through a VPN, neither the VPN itself nor any hacker spying on you can see which websites you visit. If the hacker cannot track your website use, there is no way for them to steal your password information through a key-logger or similar technique.
Choosing a VPN can be tricky, there are many services that claim to be VPN, but they are just "proxy" servers. A proxy server can misdirect your location data and identity, but it does not encrypt the data you share with it. Because of this, it would not successfully block a hacker on the same Wi-Fi connection from tracking your internet browsing.
For most situations, it is important that you make sure the service has U.S. based servers. This will be a significant factor that will impact the latency (connection speed) you experience while browsing. Next, it is important to keep an eye on how much bandwidth the VPN allows you to use per session or per month. Some offer unlimited bandwidth, which is recommended.
For more information about VPNs, check out this article.
Don't automatically give consent
Finally, there is one more very important security technique you must be aware of. Never allow your mobile device to automatically connect to unsecured or open Wi-Fi networks without consent. The reason for this is the prevalence of fake Wi-Fi hotspots.
The utilization of "evil-twin" networks or "fake-Wi-Fi" connections is a simple and common technique employed by hackers around the world. By creating a Wi-Fi network that appears to be safe (e.g., Hilton Free Wi-Fi, or Starbucks High-Speed Service) hackers trick people into connecting to their server, from which your device's information can easily be compromised.
Using the security techniques above will still prevent a hacker from accessing your accounts. But if you have not enabled your VPN beforehand, it will not prevent them from accessing your device, and likely installing malware, or tracking spyware.
Just be safe and do not allow automatic Wi-Fi connections.
Protect your personal data while traveling
If you are planning a vacation and don't want to risk having your identity stolen or your bank account hacked, make sure you check out these additional security tips.