Free Wi-Fi is one of those little pleasures that can make travelling a bit easier and entertaining, but one must always exercise caution on how to use it.
Check for HTTPS
Like the old saying goes, check for the lock in your browser to make sure it’s secure. You can force your browser to use HTTPS by installing an extension, such as HTTPS Everywhere. This plugin is available for Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Firefox for Android.
Choose your Network wisely
It’s tempting to connect to a “Free Wi-Fi” hotspot, but not always safe. Always make sure the source is legitimate. For example, if you’re in a coffee shop or public library, make sure to verify the name of the network with staff or on signage before connecting.
If you are connecting via Windows, make sure to turn off file sharing and mark the Wi-Fi connection as a public network. You can find this option in the Control Panel > Network and Sharing Center > Change Advanced Sharing Settings. Under the Public heading, turn off the file sharing toggle. You may also want to turn on the Windows Firewall when connecting to a public network if it’s not already activated. These settings are also found in Control Panel > Windows Firewall.
On Mac, open up System Preferences and navigate to the Sharing icon. Then, untick the checkbox next to File Sharing. Here’s a full rundown on how to disable sharing and removing public home folder sharing options in OS X.
You can also turn on the firewall within OS X by heading to System Preferences, Security & Privacy and click the Firewall tab.
Keep your apps up to date
Keep your browser and internet-connected devices up to date with the latest versions, but make sure to do this on a trusted home or work network and not on public Wi-Fi.
In some instances travellers have been caught off guard when connecting to public or hotel Wi-Fi networks when their device prompts them to update a software package. If accepted by the user, malware is installed on the device.
Forget the network
Once you are all done with your Web browsing, make sure to log off any services you were signed into. Then, tell your device to forget the network. This means that your phone or PC won’t automatically connect again to the network if you’re in range.
You can uncheck the “Connect Automatically” checkbox next to the network name before you connect, or head to Control Panel > Network and Sharing Center and click on the network name. Click on “Wireless Properties” and then uncheck “Connect automatically when this network is in range.”
Consider using VPN
Creating a virtual private network (VPN) is one of the best ways to keep your browsing session private. A VPN client encrypts traffic between your device and the VPN server, which means it’s much more difficult for a would-be intruder to sniff your data.
There are various ways you can implement VPN. You can use free services such as SecurityKISS which offers ad-free VPN access with data limited to 300MB/day.
CyberGhost is another option that offers a free tier, but also has a paid version that boosts speed.
Disconnect.me helps to protect against session hijacking via browser extensions for Chrome, Opera and Safari, but on the VPN front it also offers a standalone Android app called Secure Wireless that automatically detects unsecured Wi-Fi and activates a VPN where needed.
Finally, be very careful with what you do on public unsecured Wi-Fi. It’s best to save that Internet banking session for when you’re able to connect via cellular data, or on a secure network.