If spring and summer travel is in your future, connecting to free WiFi hot spots on the go seems like a no-brainer. While convenient and seemingly harmless, WiFi hot spots are unsecured networks that hackers like to take advantage of. Everything from your data, account information and passwords to Google searches and finances can become available to the hacker and put you and your computer at risk. Before your pay your bills or check your bank account, remember these useful safety practices:
Be aware that you’re never secure
WiFi hot spots are always unsecured connections, meaning you and potential hackers are hanging out in the same network bubble. Even if a hot spot requires a password or guides you through a log-in screen, you're still at risk. Tapping into your activity and personal information is easy.
Take advantage of built-in security tools
Mac OS X and Windows have built-in security features to keep most of the bad guys out. Enable your firewall (through security settings) and check off "Block all incoming traffic." Disabling file sharing is also an important security measure.
Protect your password
Hackers can retrieve saved passwords from your Registry or install keyloggers, which make your keyboard activity available to them (including passwords you type in). Browser add-ons like LastPass stores your passwords in the cloud--you'll never have to type a thing and passwords won't be saved on your computer.
Look for padlock
Websites that use HTTPS encrypt your activity, making anything you do on that site confidential. Look for a padlock in the address bar, or simply check the URL for "https://..." You can also download HTTPS Everywhere, an add-on that will force an encrypted connection on many popular sites.
Clarify the network name
Hackers often attempt to lure you in by creating fake networks like "FREE Public Wi-Fi", or "Starbucks FREE." Check with the venue's employees to confirm the exact name of their network.
Always use common sense
Just as you would apply SPF on a sunny day spent outdoors, treat all networks as a security risk. Avoid banking, online shopping, and other activities that would expose your private information. If you’re unsure of the risk, wait until you get home and can connect to your home network.