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How to Use Public Wi-Fi Safely

Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team

Public Wi-Fi is just about everywhere these days, making it easier to do everything, no matter where you are. But is it safe? Our tips help you decide when it’s safe to use Wi-Fi on the go.

Public Wi-Fi is a modern convenience that’s just about everywhere. But that convenience can come with a cost. When you’re on unsecured public Wi-Fi you’re not fully protected, allowing others to access your information or even put malware on your device. So how do you protect yourself and your sensitive information? Is there a safe way to use Wi-Fi? Use these tips to help you become a better informed user.

Use encryption. What does encryption mean? Let’s look at how it works. Encryption is the key to keeping your personal information secure when you’re online. It does this by scrambling the information you send into a code that is not accessible to others. There are two different places where you can find encryption hard at work.

  • An encrypted website. If a website is encrypted, the beginning of the URL address will start with https — the S meaning secure. If it says http then it’s not a secure website. It’s important to understand that only the information you send to and from that page is protected. Some websites only encrypt the login page, so before you send any information, check the URL of the page you’re on to make sure it’s still an https page.
  • A secure wireless network. If you’re on a secure wireless network, all the information you send and receive while using that network is encrypted.

Avoid apps in public. Unlike websites, mobile apps don’t have a way to easily tell if they’re secure or not. Your private information is important to you, which is why it’s best to just avoid using certain mobile apps on unsecured Wi-Fi. Stick to games and stay away from filing your taxes, accessing your bank account, or even shopping with a credit card on an app in public. If you absolutely must make a transaction on a mobile device, skip the app and go directly to the company’s website where you can see if the URL starts with https.

Say no to auto. Change your phone settings so it doesn’t automatically connect to Wi-Fi hot spots. This way you have control over the connection and you get to decide if it’s safe.

Change passwords. It seems like there is a password for everything these days, making it hard to keep them straight. We understand, but while it can be a pain, a good password is still a first-line defense against hackers. If a hacker is able to get your password to a meaningless page, but it’s the same one your use for your bank account, you could be opening yourself up to trouble.

Log out. Even if you’re on a secure website or Wi-Fi, your best-practice move is to log out as soon as you’re done using it.

Stay up-to-date. Keep your browser and your security software updated and pay attention to any alerts they send your way. It’s their job to stay on the cutting edge of internet dangers and protect you from them. Take advantage of this.

Look for WPA2. You might find a public Wi-Fi that uses wired equivalent privacy (WEP) and Wi-Fi protected access (WPA) for security and these do give you some safety, but they’re not foolproof. WPA2 is the strongest of these and better than nothing, but it’s still not a sure thing.

Go virtual. A virtual private network (VPN) encrypts the information that’s shared between your computer and the internet, even when the network is not secure. If you’re looking for added phone security, consider VPN options for mobile devices.

The most important thing to remember when you’re tempted to use public Wi-Fi, sometimes convenience now isn’t worth the hassle later. Having your identity stolen or your secure data breached costs a lot to repair, not to mention the time and stress involved. For even more protection, connect with your American Family Insurance agent to discuss identity theft coverage.

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