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3 Ways to Keep Your Data Private When You’re in Public

Your data security risk rises when you’re using public Wi-Fi. Here’s how to reduce your chances of compromising your private data or your company’s proprietary information.

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Public Wi-Fi has made it easier than ever to be productive no matter where you are – at the airport, in a coffee shop and, in some communities, even just sitting on a park bench. But that productivity can come at the cost of privacy and security. The problem is that the same openness and accessibility that make public Wi-Fi so convenient also make it easier for hackers to gain access to your valuable personal or business data. Here are three things you can do to reduce your risk of being hacked when you’re on a public Wi-Fi network. 

1.      Do browse; don’t log in.

Avoid using public Wi-Fi to log in to online services. Logging in can make you an easy target for cyber crimes such as Wi-phishing, in which attackers pre-empt valid hotspots with their own hotspots. Once you connect, an attacker can redirect you to a malicious site.

If you absolutely must log in to a service or application, make sure it’s one that requires two-factor authentication (2FA) or, better yet, multi-factor authentication (MFA). You’ll be asked to enter not only a password, but also provide further evidence that you are who you claim to be. This extra validation could be a fingerprint or other biometrics, or a one-time password (OTP).

When you’re considering whether to use public Wi-Fi, think about all the sensitive data that’s on your device or that’s accessible through services and apps on your device, such as online banking or medical-records portals. Then think twice about whether – and how – you’re going to connect.

2.      Heed the warning signs.

It’s easy to click “accept” or “OK” on warning notification messages without thinking twice, but doing so can have dire consequences. If you’re using public Wi-Fi and you see messages like “your connection is not secure” or “there are problems with this certificate,” don’t go any further.

Be careful, too, when using a public USB-based charger if you see a prompt asking whether you want to “allow access to this device” or “trust this computer.” Never select one of these options; it may be coming from a malicious USB host system. (If you must use a public charger, make sure your device is turned off and your phone is locked during charging.) Don’t change settings to install apps, either. If an app or site displays a message asking you to change settings, pressing “OK” may permit malware to be installed on your device.

When your device presents an option to “remember previously joined networks,” don’t accept. The new network may be malicious. Instead, turn off your network discovery options, or manually remove the network’s SSID after each Wi-Fi session.

3.      Turn it off.

Unless you’re actively using a wireless device capability, keep it turned off to reduce the chances of a data breach. Turning off Bluetooth can prevent accidental or intentional pairing off of your device with someone else’s (or with a rogue application). Turning off print, file sharing and network discovery while you’re using Wi-Fi is also advisable. And it’s just good practice to keep Wi-Fi and Bluetooth off anytime you’re not actively checking email or making calls. Make it a habit to turn everything off when you finish any online activity, and lock your screen while you’re at it.

It’s all too easy to fall victim to cyber criminals using public Wi-Fi to attack your data. Fortunately, it’s also easy to protect yourself, by being careful about logging in, paying attention to warnings and keeping devices turned off when you’re not using them. Learn about how to protect yourself from cyber crimes with strong multi-factor authentication and RSA SecurID® Access.