Whether you’re waiting to board an airplane or hanging out at a neighborhood café, public wireless networks can be a great way to stay connected.
Convenient? Yes. Secure? Hmm, not so much.
Unfortunately, most hotspots don’t encrypt what goes over the internet. So if you send email, manage your calendar, use social networks, or transmit financial data while using a public network, you may make it easier for hackers to access your accounts. In fact, new hacking tools – freely available online – make it easy to access unencrypted information, which could be used to scam you or someone you care about.
- When using a WiFi hotspot, only log in or send personal info to sites you know are fully encrypted. Look for https at the beginning of the web address (the “s” is for secure) and a lock icon at the top or bottom of your browser window. Some sites use encryption only on the sign-in page, but if any part of your session isn’t encrypted, you could be at risk. So check for https and the lock icon the whole time you’re on the site, not just when you sign in.
- Don’t stay permanently signed in to accounts. When you’ve finished, log out.
- Don’t use the same password on different websites. Otherwise, a hacker who steals one password may be able to access a bunch of your accounts.
- If you travel a lot or use the local coffee shop as your office, consider a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs encrypt traffic between your computer and the internet, even on unsecured networks. You can get a personal VPN account from a VPN service provider.
Finally, visit the Wifi Hotspot page at OnGuard Online for more Internet safety tips and share this information with your colleagues, friends, and family.
Nicole Vincent is a Consumer Education Specialist at the Federal Trade Commission.