With recent events regarding Facebook and your online privacy, keeping yourself safe is a major issue. I recently had a friend who believes her information was hacked while using public Wi-Fi at an airport. While I can't be sure what happened in her situation, I can provide a couple of things to keep in mind in order to maintain your online safety.

There are two types of public networks: secured and unsecured. Secured networks often ask you to submit an email, phone number, or use a specific password from the business establishment you are at. An unsecured network can simply be logged into by clicking on it.

While some of the following tips may be obvious, it bears repeating and reminding.

1. Say no to banking, taxes, and online shopping until secured.

This is probably the most commonly used piece of advice but I still had to mention it. If you are able to, avoid using sites with important information such as your bank details or your social security number until you get to a secure location. I understand that avoiding those sites may not always be possible, however, avoid it when you can.  

2. Look for five letters -- HTTPS (emphasis on the ''S'').

To ensure that the site you're using is safe, check for "https" (short for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure) in the site URL. Alternatively, there may be a lock symbol at the beginning of the site's URL. Note that the "s" is an indicator that the site is encrypted and communication between your browser and the site is secure.

3. Be selective.

Only connect to Wi-Fi that has been verified by staff. This may seem obvious but you would be surprised how often I encounter shady Wi-Fi options while traveling. There have been instances where one of the options to connect is labeled "Free Airport Wi-Fi Here".

On the one hand, it seems like it could be credible. However, I now know that businesses usually list their name in the Wi-Fi and require some sort of log-in agreement. Turning off file sharing on your device and/or desktop is recommended.

4. Take the terms and conditions seriously.

Reading through often lengthy and small-print terms and conditions may not be fun, but it is necessary. Often times a consumer is granted Wi-Fi use if they provide an email address. This information is then used for marketing purposes and may be passed on to several third-party sites.

While this may not be a major deal breaker for some, your information may be used to collect information about your browsing habits that could reflect on the company. Consider using a non-work related email address for such purposes. 

5. VPN for more than watching British YouTube.

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, provides extra protection by emulating a connection as if you were on a private network. A VPN will also help keep you anonymous online. This is useful for extra protection, particularly if you are connecting to your employer's private servers.

6. Sign-off often.

If you aren't using the Wi-Fi, turn it off. This not only keeps you secure, this also saves your battery life. If you can, download your documents beforehand and work offline.

Google Drive allows you to work offline and Spotify and Netflix allow you to download items to be used without Wi-Fi. You may want to cut out using unnecessary wireless devices as well.

7. Tether.

If you must use Wi-Fi for something important, consider tethering a private connection through your mobile device. Tethering is creating a personal private network, usually between your smartphone and computer. While this can be a viable option, note that it can eat away data quickly.  

Using public Wi-Fi has risks. But if you keep your equipment up to date and avoid using websites with sensitive data, you should be fine. Some hotels and airports automatically log you out after a certain amount of time has passed but turning off your Wi-Fi completely doesn't hurt. Safe browsing.   

Published on: Apr 27, 2018