Public Wifi precautions and what to look out for

by Guest Poster, Corey Stratford.

So, it’s your lunch hour and you fancy taking a slice from your student loan in a ritzy café.

Sitting comfortably with a cup of the hard stuff you connect to the public Wifi and within seconds you’re getting a ‘light’ dose of Facebook. Well, unless you are technologically paranoid you won’t realise that joining a public Wifi is a hacker’s delight. Yes my friends, there is a very high chance the Wifi you discovered is unencrypted and a could be a breeding ground for malicious users.

Firstly allow me to deliver the bad news. Using an insecure Wifi provides opportunities for hackers to connect to your laptop and steal sensitive data. By sensitive I mean: usernames, passwords, emails and financial data. Even though you are running a firewall and virus protector this does not mean you’re safe from users on the same network.

Here are the bits you need to know. You are safe and secure if your address bar shows https (note the ‘s’ on the end of the http) or a SSL encryption. In fact you cannot get any safer when using the internet if these indications are visible. Below are two images of how to find the correct signs of safety:

1: Windows (Explorer)

How to tell you are on a secured network

2: Macintosh (Safari)

How to tell you are on a secured network

Additionally, turn off all your ‘sharing folders’ to prevent hackers form uploading malware to your laptop (device). A sharing folder is exactly what is describes. Over a Wifi connection you can share documents, images and music if it’s enabled. You are basically leaving the keys in your front door if not.

Also change your Windows Wireless Network Connection properties from “Automatic Connection” (the default) to “On Demand”. This will prevent your computer from automatically joining unsafe networks.

Allow me to deliver the good news. Here at Hallam, online safety and Wifi security is a priority for all its students and staff. With over 3000 PCs available in multiple locations across the campus, getting online is not an issue. If you wish to join the network and use your own electronic devices chose from one of the Wifi hubs available. Login using your blackboard account password and username and then you are online. It is simple and safe. You can find further details about our secure network by visiting the learning centre.

The quick rule of thumb when you’re out of campus and using the internet on a public Wifi is simple.

  • Only use public Wifi for general browsing
  • Do not check emails
  • Don’t  purchase anything by using your credit card details
  • Keep away from sites that need passwords and logins.

Unless you see the padlock or https. Hackers know most people use the same passwords across most of their internet accounts so don’t give them any opportunity.

Many of you will know about this information and are well equipped. If so, just see this as a gentle reminder to be on your guard. If you have any questions or queries please leave a comment.

This post was written by Corey Stratford, who is studying for a BA in English at Hallam. It is part of a series of articles written by Hallam students about aspects of technology which interest them and that they feel can enhance the studying experience.

We are always on the look out for more student input to the blog; if you would like to get involved with writing a post or coming up with ideas, please get in touch using the Comments box below, the Suggestions tab, or via our Facebook page.

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