Using public WiFi hotspots is a great way to avoid an expensive data plan when travelling abroad but just how safe can a public network be?
Some of the more tourist-prone cities, like Barcelona, offer free WiFi to all citizens in high-traffic areas. This service is awfully convenient for travellers and locals alike but what are the risks and how can you avoid them?
Public WiFi networks are hotbeds for man-in-the-middle attacks. A man-in-the-middle attack is executed by taking advantage of a relatively open line of communication to intercept your data– the attacker inserts themselves in between two parties who believe they are communicating on a private network. This leaves users open to eavesdropping (a.k.a. snooping). An unencrypted WiFi network is an easy point of access for these attackers.
To avoid such cases, if you’re connecting through Windows it’s a good idea to turn off file sharing and flag the network as public rather than private. File sharing is a feature that allows you to share media and files with others– it simplifies and facilitates the spreading of ideas but it can also be pretty insecure on open networks.
You can change these settings by searching for your “Control Panel”. From there, select “Network and Sharing Center” or “Network and Internet” and then “Network and Sharing Center” next click on “Change Advanced Sharing Settings”. See the heading labelled “Public”? Go ahead and toggle off the the file sharing option.
For Mac users, access to your data is limited to the user by default; however, if you’ve set up a guest account on your device you may still be at risk when using a public network. To temporarily disable the guest account, click on the Apple logo in the top left hand corner of the screen. Select “System Preferences” and look for “Users and Groups”. Once that window is open, click on the little lock in the bottom left hand corner of the screen– this will allow you to make changes. Click on the Guest account in the left column and deselect “Allow Guests to Log in to This Computer”. The guest account will now be disabled. Click the lock again to prevent others from switching this setting (for more info click here).
After you’ve changed a few setting to shore up your security, there are a couple of best practices you can follow to protect yourself– at home or abroad.
- Remember to always check for “https” in the URL bar of a website (the “s” means the network is encrypted–it’s secure).
- Strengthen your internet security settings for your browser. Changing some settings can help protect your PC from malicious web content.
As always, a multi-layered security plan is your best bet. Do your homework and make sure your computer’s settings are secure before you leave. Throw your FixMeStick in your bag too and run a scan at night while you rest up for your next adventure. Your security isn’t bound by your geography and neither is your FixMeStick!
Safe travels, folks!