Connecting to Public Wi-Fi? Here Are 4 Travel Tips to Help Protect Your Data
Sometimes it’s hard to stay connected when you’re traveling Down Under, which is why it’s tempting to try connecting to any open hotspots to see which one works best.
Unfortunately, public hotspots are notorious for having very little privacy settings, and when you connect to one, you could be inadvertently exposing sensitive data to hackers, snoops, and more.
The next time you find yourself logging on to a public network, follow these four tips to protect yourself on free Wi-Fi.
1. Always read the terms of service before you log on
As dangerous as they may be, public networks are a necessity for travellers. These free Wi-Fi hotspots, found in cafes, restaurants, and airports, provide a vital lifeline in keeping the public connected. Plus, with more hubs popping up every day, these networks offer more convenient ways to stay connected on the go.
In order to use one of these hotspots, users typically need to fork over some type of identification, usually in the form of an email address, phone number, social media handle, or even passport number. By entering this information and agreeing to the network’s terms of service, users may unwittingly be giving the network operator the green light to collect, analyze, and even sell their online browsing habits.
That’s why it’s important to take the time to read over the terms of service before you hit the accept button. If you’re not on board with handing over your details, you may want to nix logging on and wait to go online when you find a more secure network later on.
2. Limit which types of data the network can access
Aside from dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s, there are other steps you can take to keep your information private. Turning off your device’s location services, for instance, is a safe and easy way to minimize what types of information other users can gain from your connection to the network. If you’re browsing on a smartphone, disabling this feature will help keep your geolocation and whereabouts private.
You can also limit the amount of data passing through your connection by turning off your file-sharing settings. iOS users can do this by heading to the “System Preferences” menu and toggling the “File Sharing” icon off. For Windows users, you can easily do this by choosing the “public” option when you find and connect to a new network.
3. Avoid sensitive transactions when using a public network
As public hotspots are known for opening the door to identity theft, it’s important that you avoid making private transactions when connected to unsecured networks. Banking sites, in particular, should always be avoided, as hackers can glean a victim’s personal information when they browse without protection, especially over HTTP connections.
It’s also best to avoid signing up for services or paying for items when you’re on a public network. Basically, any site or service that involves entering your personal information should be avoided, especially if you don’t want to compromise that data to hackersthrough man-in-the-middle attacks.
Another tip to keep in mind is to check whether the sites you’re browsing are secure. If the URL starts with HTTPS (the ‘S’ stands for secure), you can rest easy knowing the particular site is safe.
4. Invest in an anonymous VPN service
While the above tips can help minimize your risk of identity theft, none work as well as a VPN (virtual private network). A VPN creates a secure tunnel between your device and every site and service you access. By anonymizing your location and encrypting your connection, a VPN instantly secures any public hotspot—letting you browse in peace without having to worry about lurkers honing in on your activity.
And if your ISP or Wi-Fi provider is intentionally throttling or slowing your internet, a VPN can actually help you stream faster by resetting your browsing speeds to their default levels. As Australia currently touts some of the slowest internet speeds in the world, every little bit helps. A good VPN service shouldn’t cost more than a few dollars a month, and most subscriptions can be used on multiple devices.
With these tips in mind, you can help secure your connection on public Wi-Fi hotspots without worrying about overexposure.