Security Using Public WiFi

Network security is ALMOST as important as physical security in today’s environment. So, what can a person do to keep snoopers from stealing their identity while they are using a public Internet hotspot?

public wifi securityOne of our users asked whether there was a greater risk from using a tablet rather than a laptop. Actually, you could include smart phones in the mix as well, since they often have as much private information as your computer. And, their smaller size makes them MUCH easier to misplace or have stolen.

But from a technology standpoint, I don’t know that there is any greater risk for one device over another. The only exception might be that Windows-based laptops may be at a higher risk. That, because so many are out there, they may be perceived (by the snooper) as an easier target. Another thought: the less-technical the user, the easier the “mark” (see Note1).

Here are a few common sense issues that may help:

  • Use your own computer for anything that may involve your privacy. Public computers may have key-loggers that record every keystroke that you make.
  • Even on your own computer or device ASSUME that someone is recording everything and only make exceptions when necessary.
  • Use a WIRED connection if it is available. A Cat5 Ethernet connection has much greater privacy and security than a WiFi connection.
  • Try to always use a SECURED network. If the network is “open” – does not require any password to sign in – then you are at a MUCH higher risk of someone snooping.
  • ALWAYS use the httpS:// when connecting with sites requiring your secure passwords or data. This is usually noted by a padlock symbol in the browser – or you can just check the actual address. NEVER type your password unless you see one of the signs that the connection is secured.
  • Select secure connections on any site that gives that option. Google login can be set to ONLY connect with secure connections. This is VERY important since if a snooper can steal your email password, they will likely have access to other – even more private data. Also, Google has an option to call your mobile phone when a strange attempt is made to login to your account.
  • Elect to be notified when a new computer or ip is used to connect to your accounts. Facebook and some others do this.

Do you have other ideas that can help? Leave a comment so we can all benefit.

Note1: A recent study by AptiQuant Psychometric Consulting Co. entitled, “Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Browser Usage,  Measuring the Effects of Cognitive Ability on the Choice of Web Browser” reported some interesting results. After compiling the results from more than 100,000 users, they “found that there was no substantial difference between users of ChromeFirefoxSafari, and Opera. But Internet Explorer users had IQs below average.” Read more:

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6 Responses to Security Using Public WiFi

  1. John P says:

    I am not sure I agree about wired connections in a hotel being more secure. I am no expert but I got very nervous after plugging in once and checking what was available on the network through windows. I had immediate access to what appeared to be shared music collections on other guests’ computers. If that level of access was possible with no hacking skills what could a skilled hacker do?

    I use Secureline VPN with Avast for secure surfing over public wifi. This may be new news since this was posted but all reviews I have read of it are pretty good.

    • Ray says:

      That sounds correct. The reason that I mentioned wired as being more secure than wifi is that anyone can sit in the parking lot and use their wifi. The wired connections are not too difficult to find (and are not generally locked from outside use) but it is a bit more difficult for a hacker to see you. Of course, if they only have one public router and all the connections are in a single network, then even if you were wired, the WIFI connections could still see you.
      I have not tried the VPN that you mentioned. Would you like to write a review/guide for me?

  2. Christopher says:

    Ray, Your tips are useful, but unfortuantely, the typical scenario when one travels is linking up to the hotel, convention hall or coffehouse wi-fi.
    These are rarely “secured” but that’s usually all that is available. Are you aware of any software that could offfer protection on a tablet?

    • Ray Waldo says:

      I don’t travel as much as I used to – that is for sure.

      Some hotels still offer wired Ethernet connections. That is ALWAYS preferred. If there is not a jack in your room, check in the “office” room where they have public computers. You could even sit at one of their computers, disconnect the network cable from it and plug it into your own laptop. That would give you a good connection and a great deal of security.

      For Wifi devices, you have to be very careful… I don’t believe that you will find a software package that will do the work for you. You have to practice the safe computing things that I mentioned. There is a lot of browsing that you can do without having to log in to any site.

      Email is one problem but you need to SECURE the link between you and your email server. Again, GMail (if set up) will only do https connections.

      Of course, one (great) alternative is to get a MiFi device – or tether from your phone. That is a secure connection and therefore reasonably safe.

      I am sure that some others will have additional tips that they can offer.

  3. Chris says:

    Wow…that was a quick response to my question about “traveling with the gTAb”! Thanks for posting the info. Look forward to more info.

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