4 Key Security Setups To Safely Connect To Public Wireless Networks

public wireless security Many people believe that visiting obscure websites or downloading files from illegal sources is the only real security risk when going online. While such behavior certainly increases your risk of catching a malware infection, it’s not the only way to get into trouble. One other major safety hazard is using public wireless networks. In this article you will find key security precautions you should take before connecting to a public wireless network, whether or not it is secured.

Connecting to public Wi-Fi has become a routine for many of us. Conveniently, you can find public wireless networks almost everywhere and often they are free. Unfortunately, not even a secured network guarantees your safety, as you never know who else is using the same network and trying to read your data. The only way you can protect yourself and make it harder for someone to sniff your transferred data or access your files, is by running security software on your own computer.

Enable Your Firewall

A firewall is your first line of protection against outside intruders. It allows you to control network transmissions and alerts you if anything but an approved process tries to send data or access your computer. If you would like to learn more, have a look at the article How Does A Firewall Work? [MakeUseOf Explains] How Does A Firewall Work? [MakeUseOf Explains] There are three pieces of software that, in my opinion, make the backbone of a decent security setup on your home PC. These are the anti-virus, the firewall, and the password manager. Of these, the... Read More .

Both Windows and Mac OS X come with a firewall. In Windows 7 you can enabled the firewall via the Control Panel under > System and Security > Windows Firewall > Turn Windows Firewall on or off (left hand menu). We also showed you How To Enable the Firewall In Mac OS X Snow Leopard How To Enable the Firewall In Mac OS X Snow Leopard Since we rarely hear about security problems with Apple hardware, we Mac users often ignore some of Apple's basic security applications and features such as the Firewall. It’s easy to set up, but there are... Read More .

public wireless security

If you are unsure whether the default Windows firewall is sufficient, what its weaknesses are, or which alternatives are out there, I recommend you to look into these articles:

Disable File & Folder Sharing In Windows

Windows allows you to share files, printers, and folders on your network. What makes life easier in your home network, can quickly turn into an annoyance or a security risk when connecting to a public network. Be sure that these options are turned off for public networks.

To control your sharing setting, go to the Control Panel and click > Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center > Change advanced sharing settings (left hand menu). Open the Public profile and turn off all sharing options.

public wireless network security

Once you connect to a new public network, be sure to tell Windows that the new network belongs to the public category when the respective selection window comes up.

public wireless network security

Use a Secure Connection (HTTPS)

Whenever transferring sensitive information, for example when shopping online or connecting to your online bank account, you should use a secure connection. Secure means that the data you are sending are encrypted. The full website address in your browser’s URL bar indicates whether or not you are using a secure connection. It will either start with http:// (not secured) or https:// (secured).

To learn more about HTTPS and to find out how you can connect through HTTPS per default using HTTPS Everywhere, check out this article: What Is HTTPS & How To Enable Secure Connections Per Default What Is HTTPS & How To Enable Secure Connections Per Default Security concerns are spreading far and wide and have reached the forefront of most everybody's mind. Terms like antivirus or firewall are no longer strange vocabulary and are not only understood, but also used by... Read More

Connect Through a Virtual Private Network

Since HTTPS relies on encryption provided by the website server, it is not something you can always use as it’s not always available. An alternative is to use a virtual private network (VPN). Instead of connecting directly to the Internet, you establish an encrypted connection to a server, which then connects you to the Internet.

public wireless security

We have previously written about free VPN services for Windows and iOS here:

To read more about HTTPS, VPN, and also tunneling, have a look into the article How To Combat WiFi Security Risks When Connecting To A Public Network How To Combat WiFi Security Risks When Connecting To A Public Network As many people now know, connecting to a public, unsecured wireless network can have serious risks. It’s known that doing this can provide an opening for all manner of data theft, particularly passwords and private... Read More .

Additional Security Software & Precautions

In addition to using a firewall, turning off sharing settings, and connecting through HTTPS where possible or VPN, you should also use standard anti-malware software. This includes anti-virus tools and malware scanners. We have reviewed some of the best applications and additional tools in these articles:

Also read more on How People Are Hacking Wireless Networks & How To Protect Yourself How People Are Hacking Wireless Networks & How To Protect Yourself Read More .

How do you protect your data when connecting to a public wireless network?

Image credits: Free Wireless Internet via Shutterstock

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  1. Owen Dubsub
    July 20, 2012 at 5:58 am

    download DNSCrypt from OPENDNS, its free... it will protect you from man in the middle attacks

  2. Gian Singh
    July 17, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    thanks for the article.

  3. Irshaad Abdool
    July 9, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Its also important to use 'single-use codes' when signing up on your accounts, as public wireless networks are usually playgrounds for hackers. sniffing on the network traffic will in no time give their your credentials.
    windows live/hotmail has the feature, but you have to configure it beforehand. its accessible from "options >> Security", you will be asked to enter your mobile phone number.
    to use it, enter your email address ONLY, then click on "Not your computer, get single-use code", windows live will then send you a string of numbers that youll have to enter in the onscreen form, n voila! u r in,. if ever somebody is sniffing on the traffic, he/she will only get the useless single-use code.

  4. Obed issac
    May 30, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    hi, is the cloud wifi system is more secure in the public wifi system, eg. caffe nero is using the cloud which is provided by the bskyb.

    • Tina
      May 30, 2012 at 11:05 pm

      It's not necessarily more secure. However, if less people have access to it, then you are less likely to have someone in the same network who wants to hack your computer.

  5. Brian
    April 27, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    What about when you are using an Ipad?

  6. Siyanda Mava
    April 26, 2012 at 5:12 am

    hi Tina

    are there any safety precautions i should take when connecting using a cellphone?