Security is Your Responsibility When Using Free Wi-Fi

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Dale Rapp

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Coffee shops, restaurants, airports, and hotels, are just some of the locations that you may find an available public wireless network or a free Wi-Fi hot spot.

These free wireless hot spots deliver a high-speed internet connection, but this convenient no hassle access to the internet comes with a lack of security.

It doesn't mean you should avoid accessing a free wireless hot spot, it just means you need to be aware of how to protect your device when you do.

To prove the point that security is your responsibility at a public hot spot I captured the following screen shot from a Wi-Fi user agreement from a local restaurant I often visit.

The user agreement clearly states security and privacy is the user's responsibility:

(click image to enlarge)

Other businesses that offer free wireless access have similar verbiage in their Wi-Fi usage agreements.

With the user being responsible for the security of their device I have outlined some general security tips that can help protect you when using a free public wireless hot spot:

Have an antivirus program installed.

  • Regardless if you access the internet from a wired or wireless network, your home, work, or Wi-Fi hot spot an antivirus program should always be installed and running on your computer. Antivirus will prevent the unwanted programs from being installed on, or accessing data your computer.

Make sure the firewall is enabled.

  • A firewall acts as a bouncer to either allow or deny access to your computer. The firewall uses rules to control the traffic and prevent an unauthorized person from accessing your computer through an internet or network connection.

Use a VPN connection.

  • Free public Wi-Fi provides no encryption or scrambling of the data as it travels the air waves, so anyone could capture the communications including passwords you are typing in to access websites. VPN will allow you to create an encrypted tunnel through the hot spot network to the VPN server. An encrypted VPN tunnel is the best way to scramble your communications as it travels the network and prevents anyone that may be eavesdropping on the Wi-Fi hot spot from reading your traffic.
  • There are a lot of personal VPN services available and a quick Google search will reveal numerous companies that provide the service. Most companies providing personal VPN should offer a free trial of their service along with monthly and annual plans for a fee. If you travel a lot or you are constantly using public Wi-Fi you may find this to be money well spent to protect your traffic when accessing any unencrypted public Wi-Fi network.

Use HTTPS when available.

  • Any website you access that requires some sort of log in should be using HTTPS. HTTPS is the secure alternative to HTTP, and to verify if any site is using HTTPS look in the browsers address bar and make sure the web address of the site starts with HTTPS. Some sites such as Facebook may require the user to enable the HTTPS feature through the privacy settings.

When I travel or access free Wi-Fi I'm usually on my Windows 7 laptop, and while researching this blog post I found a great article on the Microsoft site discussing Wi-Fi security tips.

The article is linked below and provides additional details and specific instructions on the Windows operating systems to help protect you when using public Wi-Fi:

Cross-posted from DalesWiFiSec

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