Public WiFi networks. Are they safe?
How to connect safely to a public WiFi network
Could someone connect to the same network and spy on data communications?
Does this mean that someone could steal my Facebook username and password?
What about other websites? Could someone see which pages I’m visiting, or access the data I enter on unencrypted site?
So as long as the Web page is secure, I’m alright, aren’t I?
But is this still the case if I know that the WiFi hotspot is reliable, such as in a shop or restaurant?
This is chaos! Is there any way of protecting myself against these attacks?
And what about password-protected WiFi networks? Is there the same risk?
Does this apply to all types of devices or just to computers?
And so what about WhatsApp? Can anyone see my chats or the photos and videos that I send?
Benefits and Risks of a Wireless Network
Many consumers and small businesses use wireless (Wi-Fi) networks to enable their laptops and other wireless devices to access the Internet. Wi-Fi networks generally include a wireless “router” connected to a broadband Internet service via a modem that is attached to the cable or telephone network. Sometimes the wireless router and the modem are integrated into one device.
While Wi-Fi networks provide many benefits, an unprotected network can result in unauthorized use and potential harm unless certain steps are taken. In some cases, unauthorized users may be able to access your private information, view the content of transmissions, download unlawful content using your network or infect computers with viruses or spyware. Unauthorized users may also cause harm beyond your computer or network, such as sending spam, spyware or viruses to others, and the activity can be traced back to your network.
How to Secure a Wireless Network
The following tips can help secure a Wi-Fi network against unauthorized access. Consult the owner’s manual that came with your wireless router for specific instructions on performing the following steps. Manuals are often available on the manufacturer’s website. At the bottom of this page you will find links to product manuals from some of the most popular manufacturers, and links to how-to videos produced by the Federal Trade Commission.
1. Turn Encryption On
Turning on your wireless router’s encryption setting can go a long way toward securing your network. Wireless routers often come out of the box with the encryption feature disabled, so be sure to check that encryption is turned on shortly after you or your broadband provider installs the router. Note that there are different types of encryption. “WPA2” currently is the most effective standard. Another common standard, “WEP”, is less secure, and therefore is not recommended. To turn on encryption, you will need to pick a wireless network password. Longer passwords that utilize a combination of letters, numbers and symbols are more secure.
2. Turn the Firewall On
A “firewall” is designed to protect computers from harmful intrusions and can be hardware-based or software-based. Wireless routers generally contain built-in firewalls, but are sometimes shipped with the firewall turned off. Be sure to check that the wireless router’s firewall is turned on.
3. Change Default Passwords
Most wireless routers come with preset passwords for administering the devices settings (this is different from the password used to access the wireless network itself). Unauthorized users may be familiar with the default passwords, so it is important to change the router device’s password as soon as it is installed. Again, longer passwords made up of a combination of letters, numbers and symbols are more secure.
4. Change the Default Name of the Network
A network’s name is known as its “SSID” (service set identifier). When a computer with a wireless connection searches for and displays the wireless networks nearby, it lists each network that publicly broadcasts its SSID. Manufacturers usually give all of their wireless routers a default SSID, which is often the company’s name. It is a good practice to change your network’s SSID, but to protect your privacy do not use personal information such as the names of family members.
5. Turn Network Name Broadcasting Off
Wireless routers may broadcast the name of the network (the “SSID”) to the general public. This feature is often useful for businesses, libraries, hotels and restaurants that want to offer wireless Internet access to customers, but it is usually unnecessary for a private wireless network. It is recommended that owners of home Wi-Fi networks turn this feature off.
6. Use the MAC Address Filter
Every device that can connect to a Wi-Fi network has a unique ID called the “physical address” or “MAC” (Media Access Control) address. Wireless routers can screen the MAC addresses of all devices that connect to them, and users can set their wireless network to accept connections only from devices with MAC addresses that the router is set to recognize. In order to create another obstacle to unauthorized access, change your router’s settings to activate its MAC address filter to include only your devices.
Additional Wi-Fi Safety TipsTurn off your Wi-Fi network when it will not be in use for extended periods of time
Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software on the computers that access your wireless networkDon’t assume that public wireless networks are secure