Staying Secure Using Public Wi-Fi No Matter Where You Travel

Whether a user is preparing to head to the local cafe to work on a project, or leaving for a vacation or business trip out of state, or even out of the country, free Wi-Fi will most likely be in the mix. Odds are, a user’s travel bag will include a smartphone and even a tablet for reading novels, or checking out tour guides to be used at a free Wi-Fi hotspot in a cafe, hotel, or other tourist rest stops. Can you still take advantage of free Wi-Fi and still keep your personal information safe and secure when taking advantage of free Wi-Fi? With just a few precautions, any user can have secure Wi-Fi when traveling for business or pleasure, no matter how far they roam.

Travel expert Rick Steves recommends that before even leaving the house, users should make sure that their tablet or smartphone is set up to require Wi-Fi manual confirmation. There can easily be a security issue if the settings are set up to allow a system to automatically make sure you confirm any Wi-Fi. This ensures that you have connected the secure Wi-Fi, not a hacker’s hotspot.

Next, users should make sure they are upgraded to the most current operating system. This includes apps. These updates are often made as a remedy to the latest security threats. Even the app that you never use can be a backdoor for a virus or hacker to sneak in and gather all sensitive information. Update!

CNET recommends that if a user is taking advantage of free Wi-Fi at a public stop, in order to be secure, users must check with the people working there for the exact name of the Wi-Fi hotspot. For example, that local coffee shop where you work may offer free Wi-Fi along with their luscious Coconut Lattes as incentive for your to hang out and perhaps grab more caffeine or even lunch. Their Wi-Fi could be called “Local Coffee Shop” while a hacker could security set up a Wi-Fi hotspot called “Locale Coffee Shop.” Just that small alternate spelling could mean the difference between a secure connection and a hacker group getting all of your banking and personal information in a matter of seconds.

They also recommend changing your settings. More specifically, if using Windows, they recommend turning off file sharing in the advanced sharing settings of your control panel. If using a Mac OS X, an easy fix is to simply turn on the firewall in System Preferences, under Security & Privacy.

A VPN is also another great recommendation. These can be free or purchased for a monthly fee. A VPN can have a server in a country where a user does business. Many users have a VPN to access their sensitive banking information or government websites if they are visiting another country. Some banks to not allow a sign-in if a user is out of the country, but a VPN with a server in a user’s home country will solve that problem. Other users have a VPN to watch television programs from back home. Not only can a user access entertainment and sensitive information from their home country, but this virtual private network will encrypt all data, giving the user more security.

When using public or cafe Wi-Fi, stick to Google or travel websites. This is not time for a user to check on their sensitive banking information or anything that requires a sign-in. A user should always stick to anything that has a minimal security threat, such as tourist information or a map. Users that are unsure of how secure the free Wi-Fi is, it is wiser to be safe and wait until returning to their hotel, where Wi-Fi security should be safer.

Users should only conduct more personal tasks such as email or any banking or other money/credit card transactions to the hotel’s free Wi-Fi. It is much more difficult to create a hacker Wi-Fi hotspot at a hotel, thus it is more secure for users.

Gizmodo advises that users never download anything on free Wi-Fi. This includes sharing folders. They also remind users to always log out of everything. To add extra precaution, they advise users have a different password for each app or program.

When returning home from a trip, wise users change all passwords. If this has not been done in over a year, this is especially an ideal opportunity to do so.

Do you have any horror stories when using free Wi-Fi when traveling? Did you get hacked?

[Featured Image by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images]