And let’s face it—sometimes it’s downright necessary to log onto a public WiFi network, whether you’re firing off an urgent email, checking a website issue or accessing other information.
That urgency, however, may be tempered by an extra dose of caution if you’re nervous about protecting your personal information and online identity. And you’re right to feel hesitant. If you heard about Firesheep, an extension created in 2010 by developer Eric Butler, you’re aware that open WiFi networks can be easily invaded.
In the case of Firesheep, once users downloaded and installed the extension, they could eavesdrop on open WiFi networks to capture other user’s cookies. As Butler explained on his website, “It’s extremely common for websites to protect your password by encrypting the initial login, but surprisingly uncommon for websites to encrypt everything else. This leaves the cookie (and the user) vulnerable.”
At first glance, Firesheep may seem like a diabolical invention along the lines of PleaseRobMe.com, a site that was created to expose home security vulnerabilities created by public Foursquare check-ins. In reality, however, the plug-in is an effective way to get people thinking about their online security, especially when using open WiFi connections. So how do you protect yourself?
How To Keep Your Information Safe On An Open WiFi Network
There are a number of steps you can take to protect your information. For one thing, you’ll want to force secure Web browsing, as outlined by Arstechnica. Secure browsing should be the default setting in Facebook, for example. Check your browser’s address bar for https://, which ensures you’re using a shared connection. You can also verify these settings by going to your General Settings>Security Settings and adjusting the Secure Browsing option (pictured below.)
You may have other secure browsing options depending on your browser. If you’re using Chrome, try the Use HTTPS plug-in, which will redirect specified sites to SSL/TLS versions, according to Arstechnica. If you use Firefox, try ForceTLS or HTTPS Everywhere.
Lifehacker recommends enabling your firewall, which is a smart option regardless of whether you’re on a PC or Mac. In Windows, go to Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Firewall. On a Mac, go to System Preferences > Security > Firewall.
Of course, there’s no substitute for common sense—and typically, that’s the most effective solution when it comes to safe WiFi behavior. When you’re logged onto an open network, be vigilant about what sites you’re using. Don’t send any information you wouldn’t want someone else to see. Stay away from banking and other websites that could give others easy access to sensitive personal information. And don’t make online purchases, either, regardless of whether you’re inputting your credit card information or using a site like Amazon on which your payment information is stored.
If you have any other tips on how to keep your computer and information safe while logged onto an open WiFi network, please share in the comments!
Image via Wired