Author: Justin Lewis
For anyone who travels regularly for business, public Wi-Fi networks provide a vital resource. Without public Wi-Fi networks, many of us would be unable to access business networks and do our jobs while on the go. Given how reliant some people are on Wi-Fi, its security issues are a serious threat we cannot ignore.
If you’re a frequent flyer, for business or pleasure, chances are that you regularly make use of airport Wi-Fi networks. Like any public Wi-Fi network, these networks need to be approached with caution. There are certain things that you should never do while connected to an airport Wi-Fi network, as well as a number of steps you can take to keep you and your data as safe as possible.
Don’t Make Your Device Discoverable
Whenever you connect to a public Wi-Fi network, you are connecting to a network that other people will inevitably use. If you use your home network for file-sharing, make sure that you have this setting off when you are using the airport Wi-Fi, otherwise, other people might be able to access your files.
On a Windows device, you will find the necessary options in the advanced sharing options within the Network and Internet settings section. Look for the ‘File and Printer Sharing’ options and make sure that ‘Network Discovery’ is unchecked. If you’re on a Mac, go to System Preferences and then Sharing.
Don’t Browse Without Protection
Whenever you use a public Wi-Fi network, there is some level of risk involved. If the network you are using hasn’t been set up to use encryption, it is absurdly easy to set up a laptop to capture traffic traveling through the network. There are a number of man-in-the-middle style cyberattacks that exploit unprotected and unencrypted public Wi-Fi networks.
Regardless of the settings that the network is using, you can ensure that any data sent between your device and the internet is encrypted by using a proxy or VPN service. A VPN will encrypt all the data leaving your device before it is sent anywhere, making it all but impossible to read. It will also protect your privacy and security while you browse the internet by placing a buffer, the VPN server, between you and the websites you want to access. If your employee does not provide you with a VPN, the business might be at serious risk.
A proxy service works in a similar way, although a proxy will require more work on your part to set up properly. Both methods will enable you to greatly improve your security.
Don’t Automatically Connect to Open Networks
When it comes to technology, there is almost always a trade-off between convenience and security. The more convenient something is for you, the more likely it is to undermine your security. This is true when it comes to Wi-Fi networks – automatically connecting to open networks makes things easier and more automatic for you, but it also means you might automatically connect to an insecure network.
Worse still, you could potentially end up automatically connecting to a wireless hotspot that has been set up specifically to steal data from unsuspecting users. It is important that you always check the IDs of any network that you are connecting to so you can make sure that it is one that you trust. If your device is set to automatically connect to any open network it can find, you won’t have the opportunity to check.
Make Sure You Use HTTPS
When you connect to the internet, you might have noticed that there is sometimes a padlock icon in your URL bar next to the address of the site you are visiting. This padlock indicates that the site is offering you a secure connection using the Secure Socket Layer protocol – the ‘S’ in HTTPS.
The details aren’t important, what matters is that using the SSL protocol means that your communications with the website will be encrypted. Most websites today utilize HTTPS as standard, but there are still some that only use HTTP. You can find extensions for most browsers that will ensure HTTPS is being used wherever it’s available.
Don’t Do Anything Sensitive
If at all possible, you should avoid doing your online banking or any other sensitive activities while you are connected to a public Wi-Fi network. This is just a matter of good practice. No matter what other steps you might take, unless you control the network that you are connecting to, there is always a level of risk that you can’t control. You should be very careful about doing anything sensitive on a network that doesn’t belong to you, which includes an airport Wi-Fi network.
If such a public network were to be seriously compromised, it may well not be immediately obvious to the airport themselves. To some extent, you should always assume that the public network that you are using has been compromised and that someone is at least trying to snoop on your activities. It’s unlikely that this has happened, but you can’t know for sure until it’s too late.
If you have to do something like online banking, it might be better to set your smartphone up as a wireless hotspot and accessing the internet through that instead of the local Wi-Fi network. This gives you a private wireless network all of your own to use. Just be prepared to pay the necessary data costs.
Whether you are only going to be using an airport Wi-Fi network while you are waiting to catch a flight and go on vacation, or you pass through airports numerous times every month and make use of their Wi-Fi whenever you do, the same rules apply. It only takes one lapse in your security in order to expose sensitive data, or perhaps even your device’s entire file system, to a potential attacker. Fortunately, staying safe is relatively easy once you know what you should and shouldn’t do. If you want to keep your device as safe as possible, regardless of the network it’s connected to, a VPN or proxy service is usually the best way.