Aussie cities are getting more and more public Wi-Fi hotspots. Not only are they all through our CBDs, airports and public libraries, they’re basically a must-have for any hip café these days. In fact, many of us rely on public Wi-Fi to stay in touch with friends, make transactions on the go, or even work remotely. It’s pretty handy most of the time. There’s just one major risk that could undo all of the savings you’ve made from not paying for your connection – and then some.
On public Wi-Fi, it’s possible for ‘malicious actors’ (i.e. hackers) on the network to see your activity. They can see where you go online, and they may be able to see what you’re typing or sending. This includes sensitive information like your online banking username and password, or your PayPal details, or any other private financial information. This info can be used to log in to your account and make unauthorised transactions, or simply to drain your account. They do this using ‘sniffer’ software: mini programs that scan all the data going back and forth over the connection and ‘mines’ for information like your personal details (name, age, address), user names, and passwords.
Tips for staying safe
If you’re out and about and need to get online urgently, your best bet may be to look for somewhere with a password-protected Wi-Fi hotspot. The password adds another layer of protection, as the connection is (more likely to be) encrypted. You might have to buy something at a café or restaurant to get the Wi-Fi password, but if you’re going to be hanging out or working there, it’s probably worth the few bucks for a secure connection (and the caffeine hit, if applicable).
Alternatively, you could try using a virtual private network, or VPN. A VPN works a bit like the network in your office, except you may have a dedicated connection to the server you need, or the traffic may be encrypted. You don’t need any special equipment; the network is all digital, hence the ‘virtual’. They’re relatively easy to organise, and there are plenty of reviews online to help you decide[i]. Just make sure that this is OK with your IT department, if you’re using a work computer.
Another way to get access, although speed might be limited, is to tether via your smart phone. This means you’re basically using your phone as your own personal wireless hotspot. You’ll need to look up how to do this for your particular device.
Where to next?
If you’re worried about the risk of your colleagues or employees sharing their personal (or company) info over public Wi-Fi, check out ‘Introduction to Information Security’. It’s our guide to the essentials of keeping your private stuff private, and it’s packed full of practical tips that can be implemented by individuals and organisations of any size. Need something a bit more specific? Contact us today to see how Money101 can support your unique security compliance, training and professional development needs.