By Hughes Federal Credit Union

Before connecting to your favorite coffee shop network, here’s what you should know about the risks that come with the convenience of free WiFi and what you can do to stay protected.

Why should I worry about connecting to free public WiFi?

While public WiFi can be a convenient way to connect to the internet, it’s also an easy way for hackers to gain access to your personal information. Hackers create what’s known as “rogue networks,” mimicking the restaurant or business name and then waiting for unsuspecting victims to hop on. Once connected to the fake network, nearby hackers can see everything you type including addresses, usernames, passwords, credit card information, and other personal information.

Always use networks that use a password to connect. Be suspicious of networks that don’t require a password. If the business displays a sign with the network name and password, be sure to use that specific network. It’s also important to note that just because you’ve connected to the correct network, doesn’t mean you’re entirely in the clear. You can still fall victim to what is known as a “man-in-the-middle attack.” A MitM attack occurs when a hacker is connected to the same network and is in close proximity to the user and can easily intercept any data the victim sends through the network.

Tips for staying protected while using public WiFi

Avoid any web activity that involves sharing personal information like credit card information or social security numbers.

Use secure websites with HTTPS. Always look for the little padlock on the address bar. The padlock symbol signifies that your data will be scrambled as it travels through the network, making it difficult for hackers to obtain.

Turn on your computer’s firewall.
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) which will create a secure connection between your computer and the internet. A VPN connects you to a proxy server to mask your online activity.
Enable 2-factor authentication. Nothing is foolproof and in case your passwords are stolen, it’ll make it more difficult for a hacker to gain access.
Use your cellular data if you’re connecting online via apps. Because you can’t see the HTTPS symbol on apps, it’s best to use your cellular data.

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