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3 Ways to Keep Yourself Secure on Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi presents a huge danger to those who access it. While it may be convenient and comfortable to check your email at your favorite coffee shop, many public Wi-Fi hotspots lack security.

Photo by Joseph Gruenthal on Unsplash

That means trouble for users and even bigger trouble for companies. Wi-Fi hotspots are accessible in coffee shops, airports, malls, restaurants, offices, public transit, hotels, and more. Possibly the worst part about these attacks is that the victim has no clue it's happened. There's no malware to find or breach to discover. The only way you'll find out is when it's too late and you discover you're suddenly a victim of identity theft.

Here's how someone can use public Wi-Fi to get to you:

The Evil Twin

It’s the simplicity of this one that makes it so effective. The attacker sets up in your favorite coffee shop, or in a hotel room/car/apartment nearby and creates a very authentic-looking Wi-Fi hotspot. It could be called "Airport Free Wi-Fi." Without thinking, most people click on it and start surfing. What's even more attractive is there's no password required.

The trouble begins once you connect. Everything you enter while surfing the web through that hotspot, including passwords, banking information, and more, is picked up by the attacker.

Simple Hacking

Using programs readily available online, the Wi-Fi hotspot can be attacked and then “sniff” the information, taking in everything you are doing. In this case, you did access the right Wi-Fi hotspot but it's been taken over. They then run programs to sniff all the information flowing over the public Wi-Fi. When you enter your credentials, they get a notification.

Despite these risks, Still public wifi is widely used and individuals, companies and governments alike often overlook the security issues. There are over 400,000 Wi-Fi hotspots at coffeeshops in the U.S. alone, over 300 million hotspots worldwide, and 87% of Americans have used public Wi-Fi. Of course, not accessing public Wi-Fi is a convenience many of us don't want to give up. Here are three ways you can keep yourself safe:

#1: Do not access any sensitive information

The easiest way to keep yourself safe is to just avoid accessing any sensitive information while you're hooked up to a public Wi-Fi hotspot. Don't browse your sensitive work emails, sign into your bank account, or do anything involving passwords. This doesn't mean you can't use public Wi-Fi at all; feel free to keep scrolling through those photos of cute kittens. But wait until you're using a secured Wi-Fi hotspot or until you're home to do any work involving sensitive data.

#2: Limit access of sensitive information

If you've got employees who travel abroad and don't want to risk your company data at all, you can limit access to specific information when outside of the office. That means keeping data on secure servers that can only be accessed when employees are on site, using a secure connection. This ensures your data stays safe.

#3: Secure you accounts with FIDO U2F

Add a U2F Security Key. Attackers are often after your credentials like username and password. Setting up a security key means even if they access your account, they can't get in without the physical key you're holding. Security keys are easy to set up and they're supported by many popular applications, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, RSA, SalesForce, Dropbox, Duo, and more.

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