Home How Tos 11 Security Steps On How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

11 Security Steps On How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks


1. Turn off your public network sharing options

If you’re using your home or work network you may feel safe enough to allow network resources sharing, like printers or public folders, but on an unsafe public network, this is not recommended. Usually, the public wireless networks are not subjects to high levels of security and are favorite places for hackers and malicious software.

To turn off public sharing, follow these steps:

1. Go to your Windows Control Panel.
2. Access the Network and Sharing Center window.
3. Click Change Advanced Sharing Settings.
4. Select the Public profile.

Turn off File SharingNetwork Discovery, and Public Folder Sharing, in case they aren’t already OFF. Usually, by simply choosing that you are connecting on a Public network, these options are automatically turned off.
(The steps may differ on different Windows operating systems.)

2. Keep the Firewall Enabled

Make sure your Windows firewall is turned on. If you are using a security product that provides a better firewall, make sure it is still enabled. Sometimes, when you’re trying to access an online location and notice a slow-down, you disable it temporarily and forget to enable it back.

To check, access the Control Panel window, go to System and Security and select Windows Firewall.
(The steps may differ on different Windows operating systems.)

3. Use secure websites for sensitive operations

First of all, I don’t recommend running any important operation or financial transaction on a public wireless network. This being said, if you still need to use a public network to check your bank balance, make sure you visit a secure website.

To know you’re using a secure site, look to the left of the web address and find the “Lock” icon. This indicates you are on an encrypted or verified location.
At the same time, check the web address starts with “https://“. The “S” is from “secure socket layer” and you know you are going to a site where communication is encrypted.

If you don’t want checking all the time the web address, use HTTPS Everywhere, which is available for Firefox, Chrome, and Opera. This little extension has the role to encrypt your communications with many major websites, making your browsing more secure and safe from online criminals.

Even if you don’t use this extension, many sites like Facebook or Gmail use https automatically. In the end, we’ll say again that sensitive browsing, where important credentials or financial data are used, should not be run on public networks.

4. Use a Virtual Private Network

Public networks are favorite places for cyber criminals to retrieve sensitive data by using wireless sniffers in order to obtain communication details sent over the unsafe network.

To increase your connection security you can use a “private browsing” session, which means that your browsing history will not be kept locally. But this doesn’t mean that the Internet Service Provider or the network administrator will be blocked from “listening” to your online session.

For a greater degree of security, you can start using a VPN, which is a Virtual Private Network.

The VPN hides your IP address by encrypting your connection and allowing you to browse online in anonymity. Using this method you protect your online privacy and you keep your valuable information from cyber threats, online scams, identity breaches or phishing attempts.

To keep your online session private on public wireless networks, I recommend a popular VPN solution like CyberGhost.

5. Turn the Wi-Fi connection OFF

Are you done using the Wi-Fi network? Then don’t forget to turn it off.

There is no reason to stay connected more than you need. The more you stay connected, the more chances are for your system to be noticed by cybercriminals or malicious software. At the same time, this helps your laptop save the battery life.

6. Update and patch everything

Keep your Windows operating system up-to-date

Always keep your system up-to-date with the latest security updates and patches available.

To take the security updates automatically, follow these steps:

1. Go to your Windows Control Panel window.
2. Select Windows Update and click Change settings.
3. Make sure Install updates automatically is selected.

It is important to have the latest security updates for your Windows operating system, because they contain stability fixes and patches that keep your system safe from cyber criminal attempts that try to benefit from any security hole.

Update your software with the latest patches

I know that online criminals try to benefit from security holes in popular software we use on our computers, like Java, Adobe Flash or popular web browsers like Chrome, Mozilla or Internet Explorer.

For this reason, I would recommend you have the latest updates or security patches for the software you are using. Or if you don’t want to bother checking and keeping the vulnerable applications up-to-date every day, I recommend using a free dedicated solution to do the job.

7. Don’t connect to a public network without a reliable antivirus

It is important to have a good antivirus product from a big security company, which should include real-time scanning, firewall and automatic update capabilities. Go back to lesson 6 If you need advice on how to pick the right AV for your system (and budget).

8. Don’t browse without a good anti-spyware solution

First, what do you mean by spyware?

Without going into too much information, Here’s how your system would behave if it were infected with spyware:

  • pop-up windows are everywhere
  • error messages appear without notice and they don’t seem to go easily
  • web browser search engine has been replaced with something fishy
  • web browser home page is not the one you set
  • unknown toolbars appear in your browser
  • slow down affects every step you take.

How do I become a spyware-fighting hero? 

Spyware can affect us on any type of network, but on an open public network the online dangers could affect our computers even more.

To keep your system protected from spyware, I need to point out the importance of using anti-spyware solutions from well established companies in the online sphere, like Spybot Search and DestroyLavasoft’s Ad-AwareMalwarebytes and others.

And finally, I just have to say it again. Even if you install 20 security solutions to keep you safe online, unless you adopt some good security practices you won’t be safe online:

  • stay away from clicking fishing links or random pop-up windows
  • don’t reply to strange questions in your web browser or your e-mail inbox
  • don’t just go online downloading any application you see

9. Don’t run financial transactions without special protection

I have to say it again:

I strongly advise against running financial transactions or inserting sensitive or valuable information when using a public unsafe network!

Nevertheless, if you Really, really, REAAAAAAALLY need to access your bank account or pay online, I recommend a special security solution that can stop malicious software from retrieving sensitive data and block cybercriminal actions before they affect your system.

Next-gen anti-hacking tools (the stars of lesson 7) are an extra security layer that aredesigned to complete your online safety.

10. Secure your browser before you go online

We go online by using our web browsers and for this reason, we need to secure these tools correctly before we access any website.

And let’s not forget that browsers are applications which, without the proper security updates, may become access doors for online criminals that attempt to steal data by using unpatched security holes.

Therefore, to increase the online security, especially when using a public wireless network, follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure you have the latest browser version and you have installed the latest security patches.
  • Access and modify your browser’s security settings. Go back to lesson 11 for step-by-step instructions (and actually change your settings, if you haven’t yet).
  • Use the private browsing session before you access a website. This option will not keep your browsing history recorded locally. After selecting the private browsing session, go to your search engine and look for free proxy or something similar, access the proxy and insert the website address you want to reach. There are many free proxy sites online, so it’s quite easy to find one.
  • For an increased protection, download online a popular and reliable VPN software, like CyberGhost, and make sure data you send and receive is encrypted and cannot be accessed by prying eyes.

11. Use two-factor authentication everywhere

This option is actually an extra security step that can protect your popular online account. It may be your Facebook, Twitter or Gmail account. Or it may be any other online account that provides the two-factor authentication.

This extra security step increases your online protection by making sure that besides your credentials, which may be retrieved by hackers, you are required to enter an additional one-time code, which is sent to your mobile phone.

It is always useful to consult an extended list of programs and web apps, before selecting one for your system.

The steps above can be followed on public Wi-Fi networks to increase your data protection. At the same time, don’t forget we are talking about some of the less protected areas of the Internet and you should avoid running important sensitive actions in this spaces.

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