As work spaces become more flexible, many professionals will find that their office location changes frequently: one day it may be their kitchen, the next day a coffee shop, and the third a public library.
With all this moving about, professionals are likely to connect to a public wifi network at some point. However, more and more we’re hearing about the risks that accompany the use of public wifi. Does this mean that these hop-on, hop-off networks are strictly off limits when sending and receiving sensitive information? Not necessarily. Read our guide below to find out how to protect yourself and your private data when surfing the web outside of a secure network.
I Fell Into a Burning Wall of Fire (a.k.a. Enabling a Firewall)
Enabling a firewall is a little like building a cement wall around your home. Sure, technically it can be infiltrated, but you’d need a very powerful tool to do so. Operating systems have these built in so you won’t need any great technical know-how to turn them on: in Windows, go to Control Panel, System and Security, Windows Firewall; on a Mac, go to System Preferences, Security and Privacy, Firewall. There are a few configuration options, but go with the highest security to keep your computer airtight.
Sharing is Not Caring with Public Wifi
When you’re at home or in your office, you’re almost definitely working within a closed, secure internet network. However, when you’re using public wifi, you’re on exactly the opposite: an open, unsecured network. Even if the network is password protected, you still need to protect yourself from outside threats. One of the best ways to accomplish this is turning of your sharing, which might include sharing a printer or a music library. When these are on and you’re connected to a public network, you’re allowing any stranger to access your shared items. This is an easy way directly into your system, so shut this down before you connect. You can do so through your computer’s internet settings.
HTTPS and SSL are your Friends
When you have a normal HTTP address, plain text is sent back and forth from your computer to the web server. However, that means that any text is liable to be hacked, and that could include the password to your work email or the company’s bank account information. To keep this information safe, use HTTPS anytime you visit a website and use SSL for any application that accesses the internet. To make sure the HTTPS is enabled, just look at the web address: if you see just “http” at the start, it’s time to close that window down right away, but if you see “https” then your defenses are up. Enabling SSL is likely done by accessing the application’s preferences and will vary from application to application. Using HTTPS and SSL will encrypt the data you exchange with the web server, making your public digital defense stronger than ever.
How Important Is It?
The final check to undertake when accessing a public wifi network is a common sense one. Are you sure that whatever work you’re attempting to do needs to happen, or could it potentially wait until a later time, like when you’re home or in the office? When you lose your password, for instance, you also lose a huge amount of security and potentially compromise massive amounts of sensitive data – especially if you have passwords and login credentials stored in your account. Perhaps save your sensitive work for the home or office and use time in the coffee shop or public library for tasks that require less security.