How to protect yourself on public WiFi hotspots.
Open, shared or public WiFi hotspots can be an easy target for hackers - just ask the USA Today reporter who was using in-flight WiFi and the passenger behind him was able to read his emails. If you're surfing free WiFi at a place like a hotel, coffee house or airport, you need to protect yourself - here are three ways to do it.
We talked to Derrick Song, a security analyst for Guardsight. He explained that "to a lot of computer attackers the biggest weakness is humans."
1. Check for a secure connection.
Hackers are able to intercept information when it's unencrypted. That means your emails and messages could just be floating around as plain text. Download a bunch of them and they can gather a whole lot of information. When communications are encrypted, even if hackers were able to see them they look like gibberish, so there's not much anyone can do with them.
You can tell if your connection to the internet is secure by looking at the address bar on your web browser. If there is a little padlock the information being exchanged is tougher for anyone else to see. Gmail, Yahoo, Twitter and many other popular sites now do this by default. Most importantly, NEVER enter your password or login details on a page that doesn't have a padlock or HTTPS connection.
2. Use a VPN.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It's a little piece of software that secures all of the information being exchanged between your computer and the other computer you're talking too. You should aim to use one every time you're on a shared WiFi network. Many VPN's charge a few bucks a month for the service or you can use a free one like CyberGhost. Also, ask your company as they might be able to provide you a VPN for free.
3. Bypass the free WiFi and use your mobile phone as a hotspot.
This sounds counter intuitive to free WiFi, but sometimes the risk just isn't worth it. If you can't secure your connection with a VPN or aren't sure of the security of the WiFi network, use your phone as a mobile hotspot. This way your connection is private and you can worry less about hackers and prying eyes. On iPhone, go into settings and look for "Personal Hotspot" and on Android go into settings and look for something like "Tethering & portable hotspot" to turn the feature on.
Keep in mind, no connection is 100% secure - there is always a chance someone is ahead of the security precautions you're taking. Also, these tips apply to shared WiFi hotspots and generally not your home WiFi, as long as you keep your network password protected.