Identity theft has become a concern of most people nowadays. It used to be that the risks were mostly associated with the improper disposal of bank or credit card statements. Just as with nature, identity thieves have evolved with time. One of the newest trends is the use of free public Wi-Fi hotspots which of late seem to be everywhere. The fact is that not all of them can guarantee the same protection as a private home network.
There have been cases in recent times where people who for all intents and purposes were not supposed to have fallen victim to identity theft. That is because they took all measures possible to avoid this. However, it just takes one mistake to fall victim to these criminals. Here are a few simple tips to ensure that you don’t fall victim to cyber criminals.
- Double check the Wi-Fi network’s name
It is customary in today’s society from retailers to offer free Wi-Fi to customers as a perk for their patronage. You would find Wi-Fi at coffee shops, movie theatres, supermarkets and even public hospitals. As you sip your latte at your favourite coffee shop and search for an open network you may come across a network named Coffee Shop Free Wi-FI. In your mind this is the network for this business, and you would connect without hesitation.
Imaginative hackers have resorted to using decoy networks, and having you connect to their fake network. Next time you are at an establishment, walk on the side of caution. Don’t take chances. If you notice that there are multiple networks with similar names, confirm which is the correct one. Some companies have resorted to having the password posted on the inside of their business so that it is available to customers only or having users sign in whenever they would like to access the network.
Avoid accessing sensitive information
If you must use a public free Wi-Fi network it should not be for the following reasons:
- online banking
- credit card accounts or online shopping
- accessing emails
If you must access any of these services consider investing in a mobile data plan that suits your needs. You will be on a secure Wi-Fi network that is both password and firewall protected like the one at home.
Do not reset password while on public Wi-Fi
If you can, avoid resetting passwords in a public location regardless of whether or not you are using Wi-Fi.
Log out when finished
Don’t stay permanently signed in to your personal accounts when accessing public Wi-Fi hotspots as you may leave yourself exposed. For further security, log out from each website after each session.
Use HTTPS where possible
HTTPS encrypts the data passed between your computer and web server (of visiting websites).
This is important when the site that you are visiting deals with any sort of sensitive information like the password to your email account or online banking. Facebook, Gmail, and many websites do this automatically, but keep an eye on the address bar to make sure the “s” in “https” is always there when you’re exchanging sensitive information. If it disappears, you should log out immediately. Using HTTPS (for visiting web sites) or enabling SSL (when using applications that access the internet, such as an email client) encrypts the data passed back and forth between your computer and that web server and keep it away from prying eyes.
Just to be safe, if sensitive browsing can wait do it from a more secure network. If you use HTTP without “s”, someone can intercept your information very easily. So, very sensitive browsing like banking or credit card info can wait until you’re home where the Wi-Fi is more secure.
Use a VPN
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and is a way to direct your traffic through a secure network. Think of it as a private tunnel for your internet browsing. What happens inside the tunnel is your business and safe from prying eyes, but it ultimately allows access to the internet.
Manually select Wi-Fi networks and turn off sharing
Make sure your laptop, tablet or Smartphone are set to manually select a Wi-Fi network, rather than having it automatically connect. Also, turn off sharing and Wi-Fi capabilities when the wireless is not in use, as this cuts down possible avenues for cybercriminals to exploit. You should also remember to tell your phone or tablet to “forget” certain networks if they are no longer in use, as this could mean your device will automatically reconnect when back in range.
Don’t make yourself an easy target for identity thieves. Always be mindful that you never know who is watching the information that you are putting out on public Wi-Fi networks.
March 2017 www.sweettntmagazine.com
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