Ways To Stay Safe On a Public Wifi

Wi-Fi

Definition

Wi-Fi is a wireless networking technology that allows devices such as computers (laptops and desktops), mobile devices (smart phones and wearables), and other equipment (printers and video cameras) to interface with the Internet. It allows these devices–and many more–to exchange information with one another, creating a network.

Internet connectivity occurs through a wireless router. When you access Wi-Fi, you are connecting to a wireless router that allows your Wi-Fi-compatible devices to interface with the Internet.

Wi-Fi is the wireless technology used to connect computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices to the internet.

Wi-Fi is the radio signal sent from a wireless router to a nearby device, which translates the signal into data you can see and use. The device transmits a radio signal back to the router, which connects to the internet by wire or cable.

A WiFi network is simply an internet connection that’s shared with multiple devices in a home or business via a wireless router. The router is connected directly to your internet modem and acts as a hub to broadcast the internet signal to all your Wi-Fi enabled devices. This gives you flexibility to stay connected to the internet as long as you’re within your network coverage area.
How does Wi-Fi work?

Wi-Fi uses radio waves to transmit data from your wireless router to your Wi-Fi enabled devices like your TV, smartphone, tablet and computer. Because they communicate with each other over airwaves, your devices and personal information can become vulnerable to hackers, cyber-attacks and other threats. This is especially true when you connect to a public Wi-Fi network at places like a coffee shop or airport. When possible, it’s best to connect to a wireless network that is password-protected or a personal hotspot.

What’s the difference between Internet and wi-fi?

Wi-Fi is more sort of a facility that gives wireless Internet access to smartphones, computers, or other devices within a selected range. On the other hand the Internet is a language through which computers communicate (send and receive their information) via the Internet Protocol.

Types of Wireless Networks

Standard

  1. This standard is known by a number — 802.11. Any wireless network that is truly based on Wi-Fi will run on equipment approved by the Wi-Fi Alliance, a non-profit organization. The 802.11 standard has different types, which the Wi-Fi Alliance refers to as different generations of 802.11. For example, there’s 802.11a, which shows that a Wi-Fi-certified product operates at the 5GHz (gigahertz) frequency band and has a maximum bandwidth of 54Mbps (megabits per second). There’s also 802.11b (2.4GHz, 11Mbps), 802.11g (2.4GHz, 54 Mbps), and 802.11n (either 2.4GHz or 5GHz, 450Mbps).

Encryption

  1. Wi-Fi routers — the devices that transmit the radio signal for Wi-Fi networks — provide two different types of encryption for data sent across the network, which are called Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2). These encryption methods, according to Microsoft, provide more security than the older method, called Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). And among WPA and WPA2 there are two subtypes, one recommended for home use (Personal), where all who use the network enter the same passcode, or key, to access the network; and one recommended for business (Enterprise), where each user has her own passcode.

Connectivity

  1. As mentioned earlier, while the first thing you might think of when you hear “Wi-Fi” is the Internet, not all Wi-Fi networks are connected to the Internet. One non-Internet Wi-Fi network that businesses use is a network to connect office equipment, such as computers, printers, scanners, smartphones and other devices, eliminating the need for a bunch of wires. On the other hand, for those Wi-Fi networks that are connected to the Internet, note that public Wi-Fi hotspots — whether they’re at a coffee shop, the airport or on a plane, for example — frequently aren’t encrypted, so avoid sending sensitive business-related or financial information across the network whenever possible.

WHAT IS A PUBLIC WIFI OR NETWORK

What Does Public Network Mean?

A public network is a type of network wherein anyone, namely the general public, has access and through it can connect to other networks or the Internet. This is in contrast to a private network, where restrictions and access rules are established in order to relegate access to a select few. Since a public network has few or no restrictions, users need to be wary of possible security risks when accessing it.

A public network is a usage designation rather than a topology or other technically related principle. There is no technical difference between a private and public network in terms of hardware and infrastructure, except for the security, addressing and authentication systems in place.

Because any user can connect to a public network, its level of security needs to be heightened and various anti-threat and malicious act precautions must be put in place. Because anyone is able to access the network, malicious users may try to infiltrate the systems of unsuspecting users. Many company secrets have been stolen from executives using their laptops in coffee shops with public Wi-Fi.

Ways To Stay Safe On a Public Wifi

How To Safely Use Public Wi-Fi Networks

Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee shops, libraries, airports, hotels, universities, and other public places are convenient, but often they’re not secure. If you connect to a Wi-Fi network and send information through websites or mobile apps, someone else might be able to see it. Here are some ways to safely use public Wi-Fi when you’re out and about.

Public Wi-Fi Isn’t Secure

When you’re at home, you can take steps to keep your home wireless network secure — like using a strong router password, limiting what devices can get onto your network, and turning on encryption, which scrambles the information you send over the internet into a code that can’t be read by others. But when you’re using your favorite coffee shop’s Wi-Fi, there’s not a lot you can do to control its network security.

Why does it matter? If the network isn’t secure, and you log into an unencrypted site — or a site that uses encryption only on the sign-in page — other users on the network can see what you see and send. They could hijack your session and log in as you. New hacking tools — available for free online — make this easy, even for users with limited technical know-how. Your personal information, private documents, contacts, family photos, and even your login credentials could be up for grabs.

A scammer also could use your account to impersonate you and scam people onyour contact lists, or test your usernames and passwords on other websites — including sites that store your financial information. If a scammer gets your personal or financial information, they could steal your identity

When you sign on to public Wi-Fi, you may also be sharing your data with the companies providing the Wi-Fi. Many public Wi-Fi networks such as in airports and hotels will also prompt you to install a “digital certificate” to use their internet. They may do this to scan your traffic for malware — but this also allows them to read your traffic, even if it’s to a site using https (which encrypts information). 

But there are steps you can take to protect your information, even in public.

Ways To Encrypt Your Information

 While there isn’t much you can do to make a public Wi-Fi network more secure, you can do some things to help keep your data secure on public Wi-Fi:

  • Connect to websites securely. If you see https in the web address, you have a secure connection to the website. But using https does not mean a website is legit. Scammers know how to encrypt sites, too. They know that people assume https means a website is safe — so they’ve started adding it to their websites, as well. So your data is encrypted on its way to the site, but it won’t be safe from scammers operating that site.
  • Consider using a VPN app. Some virtual private networks, known as VPNs, offer encryption.
  • Use your mobile data. Your mobile data is usually encrypted. If you’re on the go, don’t have the option of using a secure website, and have no VPN encryption, consider using your mobile data instead of Wi-Fi. This is a good option when you’re putting personal information into apps, since it can be hard to know if they’re encrypted.

Protect Your Information When You Use Public Wi-Fi

Here are some other ways you can protect your information when you’re using public Wi-Fi:

  • Don’t access your personal or financial information. Always assume a public Wi-Fi network isn’t secure.
  • Log in or send personal information only to websites you know are fully encrypted. To be secure, your entire visit to each site should be encrypted (meaning that the URL starts with https) — from the time you log in to the site until you log out. If you think you’re logged in to an encrypted site but find yourself on an unencrypted page, log out right away.
  • Don’t stay permanently signed in to accounts. When you’ve finished using an account, log out.
  • Don’t use the same password on different websites. It could give someone who gains access to one of your accounts access to many of your accounts.
  • Pay attention to warnings. Many web browsers alert you before you visit a scammy website or download malicious programs. Don’t ignore those warnings. Also keep your browser and security software up to date.
  • Change your device’s settings so it doesn’t automatically connect to nearby Wi-Fi. That way, you have more control over when and how you use public Wi-Fi.
  • Install browser add-ons or plug-ins that can help. For example, Force-TLS and HTTPS-Everywhere are free Firefox add-ons that force the browser to use encryption on popular websites that usually aren’t encrypted. But they still don’t protect you on all websites. Look for https in the URL to know a site is encrypted.

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