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7 Simple Precautions You Should Take When Using Public Wi-Fi

Posted on: 07/28/10

Earlier this year, McDonald’s began offering free Wi-Fi at 11,500 US locations. Starbucks quickly followed suit, announcing last month that it will now offer free Wi-Fi in 6,700 locations across the US. America now has more than 220,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots, which most experts say present significant security risks for users. If your laptop has wireless connectivity and you use it to access public networks in airports, libraries, coffee houses or hotels, there are a few things you should know about the risks you may be taking.

Other users in the same hotspot may be able to grab and read your unencrypted messages right out of the airwaves and even Wi-Fi networks that do use encryption aren’t necessarily safe. Personal identity thieves and hackers can easily setup free Wi-Fi networks, get users to sign on and immediately start harvesting personal information and passwords—even pass users on to phony banking sites. Worse yet, the phony wireless networks you’ve joined are then saved in your system and your PC may automatically join them again in the future.
A few simple precautions can go a long way in providing protection over public wireless networks:

1. Make sure your computer has a hardware firewall.
2. Use public Wi-Fi for simple Internet browsing only.
3. Never use public networks for banking or to transmit credit card information.
4. Before joining any public network, look around for signs that advertise the name of the Wi-Fi network provided. Don’t join any other networks that may also show up on your PC as available.
5. Don’t use public networks to login to anything personal, even Web-mail. Hackers are well aware that most people use the same passwords across everything from email to bank accounts.
6. Turn off shared folders to prevent hackers from uploading malware to your computer over a Wi-Fi network.
7. Change your Windows Wireless Network Connection properties from “Automatic Connection” (the default) to “On Demand” to prevent your computer from automatically joining unsafe networks.

If you need help setting your PC wireless network properties, think you may have joined an unsafe network or want to make sure your computer is more secure, give a call at 1-800-PC-Support (1-800-727-8776) and our technical experts can help you sort it out.

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