When it comes to using free Wi-Fi hotspots, you not only want to put on your parachute before you jump, but also pull the cord before you taste dirt! Here are some simple steps you can take, along with a “How To” video, before you jump on your next free Wi-Fi hotspot:
1) HTTPS Surfing. If you absolutely must use the free Wi-Fi hotspot, only exchange information over websites with encrypted connections. What’s an encrypted connection and how can you tell? Watch this short video to learn how to tell if you are on a safe, https Internet connection. If you are, all of the data that goes between your device and the Wi-Fi hotspot (and eventually onto the Internet), is scrambled and protected by a passcode (the encryption part) that makes it much harder to intercept. Banks (see video), Gmail and even Facebook (see video) offer HTTPS connections. Sometimes all you have to do on a website is to change your security defaults! If your connection is regular old http (no “s” at the end), just know that your data can be free for all to see (if they have the right tools).
2) Tethering. Also known as a personal Wi-Fi hotspot, tethering is the act of using your smartphone’s encrypted cellular connection to the Internet to surf securely from your mobile device. Tethering works for laptops, tablets and iPods and is relatively simple and inexpensive to use. To tether your computing device to your smartphone, simply contact your mobile provider (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc.) and let them know that you want to be able to connect your computing device to your smartphone (you want to tether). They will let you know that it costs about $15 per month (well worth the protection), will turn it on and will walk you through setting up both your smartphone and device so that they communicate with the Internet in a well-protected manner. Note: Many tablets, like the iPad, now come with cellular data access built into the device. So, for example, if you have an iPad with Wireless + Cellular capability, you can almost always connect via your cellular connection (just like your phone connects) and never even have to utilize free Wi-Fi (though it’s still safe to use the secure Wi-Fi in your home and office). You can do the same thing by accessing the Internet via your smartphone that is NOT connected to Wi-Fi. Cellular surfing can be a bit slower, but it is considerably more private.
3) VPN Software. Using a VPN (or virtual private network software) is a safer way to surf on free Wi-Fi. Think of it like this: it takes the same protections you get when using an https connection and applies them to all of the URLs you visit. VPNs are standard gear for business users, but individuals need them just as much as corporations. One of the more popular VPNs for consumer use is Hotspot Shield VPN (this is not an educated endorsement of the product, just an example). The good part about a VPN is that it protects your data transmissions over the Internet at all times, not just when using free Wi-Fi.
Better yet, utilize all three solutions and find yourself 100% safer than the Frappuccino lover over at the next table. Mobile computing will increase your productivity, your connectivity and your flexibility. But to do it without a bit of security preparation is to court digital suicide.
John Sileo not only uses free WiFi hotspots (wisely), he is an internationally recognized keynote speaker on how to keep your employees from making poor data security decisions regarding identity, privacy and reputation protection. His happy clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, Visa, and Homeland Security. See his recent media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.