Four Ways to Stay Safe While Using Public Wi-Fi


No matter how hard we try to unplug on vacation, most of us simply don’t—or can’t—disconnect. The availability of free Wi-Fi is sometimes too hard to resist. While we’re in a carefree state of mind, it’s especially easy to bend the rules. Even when using Wi-Fi at a familiar business, you could be putting your information at risk.

Open Wi-Fi provides hackers with numerous ways to access your device, and you could be exposing everything from usernames, passwords, personal data, medical information, or bank account numbers or anything else stored on your laptop or phone. So, what can you do to protect yourself when using public Wi-Fi? Follow these simple steps to cover your bases:

Don’t reuse passwords

You hear this all the time. It’s annoying enough when a hacker can log into your social media accounts and post spam—imagine what could happen if they got control of your Social Security number or other identifying details? For example, if your password for your email account is the same as your Amazon account, a hacker could easily access your credit card information. The majority of people think of one clever password, and, in fear that they won’t be able to remember multiple passwords, they end up using it for all their accounts. My advice: write down your passwords in a journal and keep it in a secure location at home, such as a safe. It’s better to have multiple passwords than one for all accounts and run the risk of getting hacked.

Before you go, update software on all devices

Pop-up messages asking you to update your apps and software can be annoying, but those messages are important reminders. The updates give your device better functionality, increased protection from security vulnerabilities, and fewer bugs. Instead of clicking “remind me later,” pause for a few minutes to update, especially if you’ll be using your device outside of your home or office. This will keep you safe from security holes and potential vulnerabilities.

Protect logins with two-factor authentication

Have you ever had to verify your identity before accessing an account by entering a code that was sent to you via text or a phone call? If you have, this is a form of two-factor authentication. By having an app on your phone that protects against phishing and other attacks, you don’t have to worry about malicious hackers accessing your accounts on public Wi-Fi. With two-factor authentication, you will be notified of any foreign logins.

Use common sense

Most people know it’s risky to log in to bank accounts and shop online while using public Wi-Fi, yet so many of us still do it. By logging into these personal accounts on public Wi-Fi, you could expose your password to potential threats, making you an easy target for a cyber attacker. As tempting as it is to check your bank account from your phone on vacation, save it for when you’re at home on your personal network. (Banks also have automated phone systems for simple account balance questions.)

Public Wi-Fi is often a hacker’s first point of entry. By using these tips when using your devices in public and when traveling, you can ensure your accounts, and private information, are protected from threats. Want to learn more? Check out the Duo Labs video on public Wi-Fi safety.

Steve Manzuik is the director of security research at Duo Security’s Duo Labs. Follow @duo_labs

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