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5 tips for staying safe on public WiFi

Using public WiFi for your laptop or cell phone has many advantages.  It’s usually free (thanks, Starbucks!), doesn’t use up the data on your phone, and…well, did we mention free?

But people often surf away without realizing that public WiFi connections rarely have the same type of security protections as your private network.

Take these simple steps to protect yourself from the hazards of public WiFi:

1.) Choose the right network

Some hackers will set up fake networks to prey off people using public networks and steal their private data.   That “Free Starbucks WiFi” network might not actually be Starbucks’ official network.  To protect yourself, CNET suggests you verify the name of the network with the staff of the establishment you are at.  Also, mark the network as “public” to offer additional protection.

2.) Turn off Sharing

It can be fun to share music, videos and other content online.  While this is safe within the privacy of your own home, sharing on a public network leaves you vulnerable to hackers.

3.) Get a VPN

A VPN– virtual private network–routes your traffic through a secure network even when you are using public WiFi.  Paid and free options exist, and vary based on your data needs and usage. CNET can help you begin your VPN search.

4.) Use HTTPs

Regular websites that begin with “http” transfer content in plain text, making it easy to hack for anyone who has gotten into your network connection.  Websites that use HTTPS, encrypt the data, making it harder to hack.  HTTPS Everywhere is a browser plugin that creates a secure connection on the sites you visit.

5.) Use two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication means that you need two pieces of information to log into an account.  Many services, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter, offer this protection. That way, even if someone has hacked your connection and password, you are still protected.

If you have additional tips, please leave them in the comments!