Fast food restaurants, coffee shops, airports, parks, you name it! You can find free Wi-Fi networks just about anywhere.
But should you really sign on, or could you be signing up for something you didn’t bargain for? More than 72% of people used a public network to check personal email or social networking sites. More than 37% did online banking. And 33% purchased products or services with a credit card. But doing all those things could make you a target for scammers.
Instead of logging on, you may want to power down. According to an AARP survey out of 800 U.S. adults, four in ten use free Wi-Fi at least once a month.
But many of these free hot spots lack strong security protections. Warning signs of fraudulent networks include things like networks that don’t make you login in with a password. A generic name, being asked to pay to use the connection, or malicious hotspots.
“Now if I’m able to obtain your information I can superimpose my picture on your driver’s license and create a whole new person,” Regine Bonneau, Chief Executive Officer at RB Advisory LLC, said.
If you absolutely have to connect ask staff for the correct Wi-Fi, anything that claims, “free Wi-Fi here!” Or “absolutely free internet!”
And be careful about what you do while on public Wi-Fi. Don’t do online banking and don’t stay permanently logged into your online accounts.
Do make sure your computer is running some kind of anti-malware utility and complementary antivirus utility. Do turn off file sharing, enable your system’s built-in firewalls, and keep internet-connected apps and services to a minimum.
One of the basic rules of security is that if you don’t need something connected to a network, don’t connect it. When you’re finished working online, turn Wi-Fi off on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
The real best protection from an untrusted network is not using it at all. Of course, this isn’t a real way to make public Wi-Fi any safer, but if you can, consider ditching the public Wi-Fi entirely and bringing your own. Whether you use a mobile hotspot like a MiFi or a Karma, or you just tether to your smartphone and use your wireless carrier’s data, both approaches get you off of the sketchy public Wi-Fi.
By the way watch out for free Wi-Fi’s with the same name. One letter many be changed and that would be the sign of a hacker.