How can a relaxing coffee put your personal data at risk?
These days we seem unable to go more than half an hour without connecting to the internet via our smartphones, tablets or laptops. And to help us (and to save valuable mobile connection costs) many locations such as coffee shops, hotels, airports and retailers offer free access to public Wi-Fi. After all, it’s a convenient way to check your emails, do a bit of social networking or surf the web whilst you are out and about. Where’s the harm in that?
Unfortunately, data sent through public Wi-Fi can be easily intercepted putting your personal and financial information at risk. Cyber criminals can spy on public Wi-Fi networks and intercept data, potentially accessing banking credentials, account passwords and other personal information – leading to identity theft and financial loss.
Here are few tips to consider whilst you’re ordering your Latte or waiting for your flight:
- Try to verify that it is a legitimate Wi-Fi connection (bogus links set up to steal your data will have a connection name very similar to the venue offering free Wi-Fi, to trick you), try to speak to an employee at the location and check the legitimate connection name before you connect.
- If you are connecting to the office and your company has a VPN, connect to it. The VPN will encrypt your traffic and probably prevent your device from talking to others on the same public Wi-Fi network. In fact, even if you are not going to do work, you should still use your VPN to connect to the internet anytime you are using public Wi-Fi.
- If you are unsure about the Wi-Fi connection, try to avoid logging into websites where there’s a chance that cyber criminals could capture your identity, passwords or personal information – for example, social networking, online banking services or any websites that store your credit or debit card information.
- Make sure that websites you visit start with https:// – the “s” stands for secure and requires the vendor to have certificated their site. It’s not a failsafe, but it is one more level of protection.
- If your device has anti-malware and a firewall, make sure they are turned on. Don’t be tempted to turn them off to make the connection faster, that’s like trying to drive faster on a bumpy road by disconnecting the brakes – madness!
- When you are using public Wi-Fi you are not just on the internet, you’re on a network with a bunch of other, unknown devices some of which may have viruses or worse – trying to specifically attack you. If anything looks odd, such as warnings about website certificates, login fields in strange locations, unexpected requests for personal information or bank card numbers – stop! Turn your device off.
- And finally – if you really can’t wait until you get back to the office or get home to connect to your bank, do your online shopping or check out your social network sites – use a 3G/4G connection.
Enjoy your Latte!