With public Wi-Fi networks come risks.

A favorite experience — especially for remote employees — is to use various coffee shops or a library as an office. Frequent travelers access Wi-Fi hot spots in airports and hotels. Free Wi-Fi, in fact, is an expected service in public places.

However, with public Wi-Fi networks come risks.

The Federal Trade Commission’s consumer.ftc.gov site informs that anything sent through websites or mobile apps could be accessed. Protecting data sent over a publically logged-into Wi-Fi requires users to use only “sites that are fully encrypted, and avoid using mobile apps that require personal or financial information,” counsels FTC.

FTC explains that to determine whether a website is encrypted, “look for ‘https’ at the start of the web address (the ‘s’ is for secure). Some websites use encryption only on the sign-in page, but if any part of your session isn’t encrypted, your entire account could be vulnerable. Look for ‘https’ on every page you visit, not just when you sign in.”

Since mobile apps do not offer the https secure service, FTC advises against conducting any kind of sensitive transaction involving personal information, such as banking or shopping, on an unsecured wireless network.

Other ways to protect your data when using public Wi-Fi:
— Log into the correct network. Last August, PC magazine warned about “Wi-Phishing,” a term that means tricking a person into logging into an unsecure network to get to personal information: “Most people don’t take the time to check and jump on the strongest open signal they see. But you should always check that you pick the legitimate network.”
— Choose a secured, locked network — which means a password is required.
— Don’t stay permanently signed into accounts. Log out after using.
— If a password is required when viewing a website, do not use the same password on different websites.
— “Consider changing the settings on your mobile device so it doesn’t automatically connect to nearby Wi-Fi. That way, you have more control over when and how your device uses public Wi-Fi,” cautions FTC.

To secure your wireless network at home, make sure a password is required and turn on the encryption feature on the wireless router. Also, FTC reminds to change the router’s default name as well as the pre-set password to something unique and not easily determined.  

Finally, keep computer protection such as antivirus, anti-spyware and a firewall up-to-date.

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