How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi

10/11/2023 | by Josh Yarbrough

Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi

It’s a cool rainy day and driving along smoothly is John Doe and he’s in the mood for coffee. He decides to stop in at a nearby coffee shop. While there, he pulls out his laptop and gets on the Wi-Fi network.

While sipping on that Latte Macchiato, John logs in and catches up with life on Facebook. Nearing the end of his drink, he realizes that he didn’t make that credit card payment that’s now overdue. John checks his account on his bank’s website to make sure that he has enough moola to cover it and then proceeds to take care of that pesky payment. Sipping on the last of his coffee, John closes his laptop, stands up, stretches, tosses the cup in the trash and heads out the door with a smile on his face.

This might sound innocent enough but what John Doe doesn’t know is that the guy at the table across the room is also grinning because he has just stolen John’s Facebook, banking, and credit card information by using a Man-In-The-Middle attack (MITM). Poor John Doe.

So what can you do to stay safe in a situation such as this?

  • For starters, don’t use public Wi-Fi for confidential tasks such as banking and paying bills. Consider using your cell phone as a mobile hotspot as this will greatly decrease the risk of those MITM attacks.
  • Always make sure that you have the most current software patches and updates (Windows, Mac, Flash, Java, etc).
  • Always make sure that you have a good anti-virus/anti-spyware program installed with current definitions.
  • Always make sure to use HTTPS instead of HTTP when sites have that option available.
  • Always make sure that your email client (Outlook, Thunderbird, etc.) is using SSL if supported by your email provider (if it’s not, consider moving to another email host).
  • Also, when using public Wi-Fi, make sure that your firewall is on set to Public and also that sharing is off for public networks. (See below)
  • Consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This is by far the most secure method for internet browsing, albeit the most difficult to set up and configure. A VPN tunnels internet traffic through a secure, encrypted connection. It gets a little more complicated than that but don’t worry; we will be covering this more in depth in a later post.

Setting the Firewall Configuration

On Windows:

  1. Open Control Panel, System and Security, Windows Firewall

On Mac:

  1. Go to System Preferences, Security & Privacy, Firewall

Setting the Network Sharing Preferences

On Windows:

  1. Open Control Panel, Network and Internet, Network and Sharing Center, on the left sidebar, select Change advanced sharing settings
  2. Select Turn off network discovery, select Turn off file and printer sharing, and under the All Networks area, select Turn off Public folder sharing

On Mac:

  1. Browse to System Preferences, Sharing
  2. Uncheck all of the boxes in the list on the left

Remember, any device that accesses the internet is vulnerable; not just laptops. So think twice before connecting to the nearest random Wi-Fi network.

If you have questions about any of this or if you are interested in setting up a VPN, feel free to contact us at 901-475-0275. SandStorm IT is here to make your technology life easier and more secure.

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