3 tips for staying safe on public Wi-Fi

3 tips for staying safe on public Wi-Fi

Matt Blowes October 06, 2014

Last week, Telstra announced that thousands of new public Wi-Fi access points will be launched around the country from early November.

Initially free of charge, Telstra's trial will include sites from Brisbane's Queen St Mall to Melbourne's Bourke Street, along with many other major cities and regional centres in between.

There's no denying that free public wi-fi is a boon for business travellers wanting to catch up with emails or update sales opportunities while on the road between meetings. But when freely connecting to open wi-fi networks, the security risk to your personal and business data is never far away.

With this in mind, our always knowledgeable Engineering Manager Russall, offers three tips on how to keep your devices secure.

1. Use VPN where possible

There are basically two types of public Wi-Fi - encrypted and unencrypted. An open unencrypted network allows anyone in range to connect without having to supply any type of passcode. On this type of connection it is possible for another user to snoop on any data sent back and forth. If you absolutely have to use an unencrypted hotspot, using a VPN to create a secure connection to your office will encrypt all data sent to and from your device.

A public Wi-Fi hotspot that requires a passcode before you can join is encrypted, so other users will only ever see encrypted traffic. Having said that, the host of the Wi-Fi could potentially snoop on traffic as the Access point passes it out to the web, so again using a VPN would make things safer.

It's important to remember that just because a hotspot requires you to register, and perhaps even set your own password, before using their connection doesn't necessarily mean they are providing an encrypted network. This is usually more about limiting liability of the network provider than protecting your digital security. If in doubt, check the network properties on your device.

2. Make sure it's 'Official'

When you think about it, setting up a fake hot spot would be incredibly easy. For instance, tourists know that you get free Wi-Fi in most McDonald's, so naming your fake hotspot McWifi could very quickly net a scammer some potential victims. From there, they could simply record and later analyse the traffic sent, or redirect people to fake log on pages, to collect usernames and passwords... Confirming the name of the Wi-Fi with the coffee-shop/airport lounge/restaurant/where ever you are seeking access, will help and again avoiding Wi-Fi that does not require a passcode will greatly reduce your chances of getting tricked!

3. Don't ignore SSL warnings

SSL Certificates are used by websites to encrypt traffic and prove they are who they claim to be - typically banking sites or any online service where you create an account like Facebook or Twitter, you can identify them by the https:// rather than http:// preface and closed padlock icon in the browser. Sites using SSL will also encrypt traffic that moves between your device and their servers, including scrambling passwords and usernames when you log in to your account. If you ever get any sort of SSL or Certificate error, you should disconnect immediately. Do not to accept the warning or enter any more credentials as there is a very real chance the website you are logging on to is not genuine.

As always, using complex passwords, setting different passwords for the various sites you have accounts with, and changing them regularly will help protect your personal and business security online.

These are good practices to establish whether you're connecting up to a known network like Telstra between meetings, or the local cafe over Sunday brunch. Telstra's Wi-Fi trial is being run over the summer before a massive nation-wide Wi-Fi network is enabled for Telstra home internet and other paying customers.

Speeds of around 2Mbps down will be available at 1,000 locations during the trial, though no data limit was stated.

The Wi-Fi trial network will be broadcast from Telstra shops and payphone booths.

Telstra hopes the eventual, pay-to-use Wi-Fi network will have over 1.9 million access points.


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