All Wi-Fi is not Equal, BBB Tips on Connecting to Public Internet

September 04, 2017

wifiWi-Fi is everywhere these days; most expect to be able to find a connection at nearly every public space, from restaurants to airports. With smart phones, tablets and other electronic devices at our finger tips, we are constantly surfing the web, social media, playing games and running apps to stay connected. Connecting to Wi-Fi networks saves us data and sometimes helps systems run faster and smoother. Although public Wi-Fi is convenient, it is often unsecure, and this can pose risks to consumers that utilize these connections. Better Business Bureau of Central New England wants consumers to be smart about connecting to public Wi-Fi accounts.

Using an unsecure Wi-Fi connection can provide easy access to hackers to gain access to your personal information, including banking information. If they are able to obtain this information, you may be at risk for identity theft. Try to use encrypted connections to keep your information secure, be aware that most public Wi-Fi connections do not use encrypted networks. Encryption scrambles your information into code so others cannot access it. To ensure your information is encrypted you can use a secure network connection, meaning you enter a WPA or WPA2 password to connect to the internet. If you are not sure if the network is encrypted, it’s best to assume that it is not. Another way to protect your information is by using secure websites. Check for the padlock or https at the beginning of a web address, the “s” in https stand for secure. This ensures the website is encrypting your information if the network connection doesn’t.

“There are security risks when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks. Be aware of the risks and the type of information you are accessing, like bank accounts or personal information, as hackers can breach these connections without you ever knowing,” said Nancy B. Cahalen, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central New England. “Hackers can also set up fake networks that look like public Wi-Fi networks and gain access to personal and financial information. A good rule would be to not use these networks unless absolutely necessary, but especially not for banking or other apps that hold personal data.” BBB offers the following tips for accessing public Wi-Fi connections:

  • Connect securely. Never connect to an unfamiliar wireless network—even if the name sounds genuine. A hacker can change the name of his network to anything he wants, including the name of the legitimate Internet connection offered by the airport. Remember that secure networks will require a password.
  • Disable automatic connections. Make sure that your Smartphone or other device is not set up to automatically connect to any wireless networks within your range. Otherwise, your device could automatically connect to the hacker’s network without your knowledge.
  • Turn off file sharing when you are on the road to prevent hackers from stealing sensitive data from your computer.
  • Turn off the Wi-Fi hotspot on your device so others cannot sign onto your network.
  • Create a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN establishes a private network across the public network which prevents a hacker from intercepting your data.  If your mobile device has a Wi-Fi hotspot feature, you may consider a VPN to prevent other people from accessing the Internet via your mobile device.
  • Don’t use the same password for multiple log ins. If a hacker gains access to one log in, they may be able to gain access to multiple sites if all the passwords match.