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Information Security

Cyber Awareness Items

Public WIFI

Protect yourself when using public Wi-Fi.


Wireless Internet access is widely available in all sorts of places, from your favorite coffee shop to the restaurant down the street offering their patrons free access. When you’re on the go, free Wi­Fi access is the perfect way for catching up on the latest news and emails with your smartphone, laptop, or tablet. But be aware—hackers can target unsecured Wi­Fi networks to capture users’ passwords and gain access to financial accounts and other sensitive data.

Translation: you might want to do your online banking from home instead of at the local coffee shop. However, if you must use public Wi­Fi—for personal and/or business purposes—here are some tips to make sure that you’re surfing the Web safely no matter where you are.


Turn off file sharing. If you’re on a Mac, go to “System Preferences,” then “Sharing” to find your sharing preferences and make sure they’re all unchecked.

On a PC, go to “Control panel” select “Network and System” settings. Toggle to the “Advanced” settings within Homegroup to toggle off sharing functionality.

Make sure your computer has up­to­date antivirus and antispyware software. Also make sure that your computer has the latest firewall software, security patches and software updates.

Turn off Wi­Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS when they are not in use. Don’t automatically connect to Wi­Fi networks.

It's handy when you are automatically connected to your home and work networks, but that can lead to trouble when you're out and about.

Hackers often give their rogue hotspots generic names such as Coffee Shop, Linksys or AT&T Wireless. You want to be certain you are connecting to the router of the business

For added safety, install browser security add­ons or plug­ins. Also, consider using a virtual private network (VPN) that adds encryption between your device and the Internet—even over unsecured networks.

VPN will route your web browsing through a virtual network elsewhere, making it difficult for attackers to target your computer. VPN services typically require a monthly service charge.

Use Two­Factor Authentication (2FA)

2FA means you need two pieces of information to log into an account: a) something you know and b) something you have. Most often this takes the form of a password and a code sent to your cellphone.

Many popular websites and services support two­factor authentication. This means that even if someone is able to get your password due to a hole in a public Wi­Fi network, they won’t be able to log into your account. For more information about 2FA, visit the ISO blog article, “Two Layers of Added Security.”

AVOID SHARING SENSITIVE DATA Avoid making credit card transactions when using unencrypted Wi­Fi hotspots— such as those offered free in many businesses and restaurants. If you must make an emergency balance transfer or an immediate purchase to save a significant amount of money, it's safer to use a cellular connection instead of Wi­Fi. Only send personal information to web sites that you trust. Make sure that they are fully encrypted with “https” in the beginning of the URL.

HTTPS allows data to be transferred over the web more securely than standard http sites. You’re probably used to seeing https at the front of the URL to your bank or within the shopping cart of an online store.

You can also use a browser plugin to make all of the sites you visit on your computer HTTPS, encrypting the data and making your browsing Information more secure.

You can snag an HTTPS EVERYWHERE plugin for Firefox, Chrome or Opera for free from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Log off of sites you visit. Don’t just close the browser. Also, avoid checking the “Remember me” option.

Additional Note

Remember, if you're not too careful about using free public Wi­Fi, strangers can snoop on your email and social network conversations. Worse, if you're too casual about mobile banking or shopping, you could end up with a hacked bank account or credit card account. If you follow these tips, the risk of getting your information compromised lessens.