Stay Connected Safely When Using Free Wi-Fi in Public Areas

I am just back from my summer hols, and feeling absolutely refreshed! Holidays are so necessary to recharge you and give you the strength and mindset to face another year of slog and routine! More and more people are realizing this fact and making time to visit new places with family and friends. Everywhere I went there were a gaggle of tourists, enjoying the sights and sounds, clicking photos, chattering loudly and pouring over their phones/tabs to check if the picture came out well. This continued at airports too!!

As for me, I like to spend the time between security check and boarding making full use of the free Wifi at airports. I answer my mail, check my social media accounts and pen down memos to self. But what I do most is create photo albums to share later through Picasa.

I was amused to find that most people around me were doing the same. Adult and child alike seemed to be absorbed in their smartphones or tablets. While children were busy checking out videos and social media, adults seemed to be using to time to answer mails & complete pending jobs. I paid attention to what people around me were doing with their devices.

This is what I noted:

  • Most families carry individual devices for each member
  • Kids help out parents to log into the airport WiFi
  • Many don’t know there were security software available for mobiles and tablets too (“Is there one?” asked quite a few)
  • There was an underlying assumption that WiFi in airports must be secure
  • Children use Bluetooth to share music & picture files with people in their group, which means file-sharing is turned on

Now I am worried. On one hand, it’s heartening to find that kids are more aware than their parents about secure environment and the Do’s and Don’ts of Internet usage. On the other, they tend to forget the rules and happily turn on file-sharing in an unsecured environment. Besides photograph and music, their smartphones, or the laptop or tabs of their parents’, would have other stored files as well. Further, a gentleman sitting next to me was checking his trading account and transferring money to his account from his bank. I tried shoulder-surfing and succeeded (He had given me an once-over and deduced I was harmless). Evidently, he was not aware of “Man in the Middle” attack.

Don’t trust that which comes free

Unsecured WiFis are akin to leaving your home unlocked with doors and windows wide open. Strangers can easily see what’s going on; even take what they want without your knowledge. Your phone and laptop have a lot of information stored, which can reveal a lot about you. These include your contact lists; personal and official e-mails; photos; social media accounts; bank statements etc. No way would you like these to fall in wrong hands.

As usual, there are certain rules to follow to ensure you can make full use of public WiFi without your security being compromised.

Tips For Safe Surfing At Airports, Malls, Cafes:

  • The number one option is always, check for availability of secured WiFi options, even if it costs a few bucks extra. You will need to use a password to access secured WiFi. But if you do have to use an open WiFi, check each account and immediately log out of it. Don’t keep too many tabs open at the same time. Do not click on the “remember password” option either.
  • Next, check that you have actually logged on to an authentic free WiFi. Check network name
  • Be wary of the “Man in The Middle Attack”. This attack refers to stealing of data midair. Therefore, use only those websites that start with “https” in the address-bar.
  • If your browser or security software warns you that the site you are entering has malware or is not secure (my McAfee Site Advisor is a boon that way), better not proceed
  • As far as possible, avoid conducting any financial transactions or banking activities.
  • Also, avoid sending e-mails containing sensitive information that’s not encrypted
  • Turn off Bluetooth, geo-tagging and file-sharing services on your phones, laptops and tablets.
  • Ensure you device doesn’t automatically connect to Wi-Fi hot spots. Enable manual operations
  • As soon as you are done, turn off your wireless connection.
  • This is something we all know but errors do occur. Do not leave your device unattended, even when you go to fetch that coffee or throw a paper in the bin. Many leave their devices at charging ports and take calls/stroll around. Not a wise thing to do
  • You do not realize this but your security software is a blessing when using a public WiFi. It identifies malware, probable virus source, and presence of hackers. So I highly recommend you use advanced security on ALL devices. You can blindly depend on products like McAfee Total Protection and McAfee Mobile Security.

I sincerely hope you keep these points in mind when you log on to a free WiFi the next time you travel. After all, you have not only to protect your devices and data but also set an example of safety that your children will copy and practice. They will also consider you a tech-whizz with whom they can discuss their net-related problems. Now isn’t that a big gain?

Suggested reading:

Tech Talker gives a very simple but clear example to explain the man in the middle attack.

Stay safe, stay happy!


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