Cheryl Parson: Be cautious when using public Wi-Fi


By Cheryl Parson - Better Business Bureau

Last month I wrote a column about work-at-home scams and how the increase in affordable technology communications allowed workers to not be chained down to their offices.

A little over a week ago, I stopped into my favorite local coffee shop on my way to work. I noticed a sign saying they offered free Wi-Fi. Remembering the work-at-home column, I glanced around and, sure enough, saw a man sitting at a table, laptop open and papers strewn about. Here was a worker not chained to his office, taking advantage of free Wi-Fi. The rest of the week, I noticed how often I saw signs in public and retail locations offering free Wi-Fi also.

Free Wi-Fi is readily available almost anywhere you go — restaurants, libraries, motels, airports, even department stores. You don’t have to be a road warrior, free from the drag of an office. Anyone can take advantage of free Wi-Fi.

Unfortunately, free Wi-Fi hotspots often don’t provide the protection of a private business or home network, exposing your laptop, tablet or smartphone to the possibility of being accessed and hacked by someone lurking in the background. Hackers hope to position themselves between you and the hot spot connection point. Keep your information secured by reading these essential tips for protecting your business, yourself and your family while you are away from home.

• The first rule you should follow is to assume that a public Wi-Fi hotspot is not encrypted. Most Wi-Fi spots are not. In addition, hackers often set up rogue Wi-Fi hotspots with names similar to those of the venues. Don’t be fooled. Verify the name of the hotspot with an employee before signing in.

• Since access to public Wi-Fi is nearly a necessity nowadays, most experts seem to agree using a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your connection is vital! A VPN routes your Internet traffic through an encrypted “pipeline,” making it extremely difficult to intercept or decipher. Once a VPN is on your phone, tablet or laptop, all you have to do is connect to one of the remote VPN servers and then join any wireless network, greatly reducing the possibility of putting yourself at risk of being hacked. There are both subscription and free VPN services, with subscription VPNs being the better choice. You get what you pay for, and free VPN providers often make money collecting and selling their customers’ data.

• You probably don’t want to share anything if you’re connected to the Internet through public Wi-Fi, so be sure to disable “Sharing” in your system preferences or control panel prior to connecting. If you leave it on in a public place, cyber criminals can easily gain access to personal info and files.

• Once on a hotspot, log into only encrypted websites. You can tell if a site is encrypted by looking for HTTPS at the start of the website address (the S stands for secure). Don’t stay signed in. Log out when you’re finished using that account.

• Never install software over public Wi-Fi. Wait until you get home.

• Unless it’s absolutely necessary, avoid checking your sensitive data while on public Wi-Fi. This includes your social media, email, bank and credit card accounts.

• Turn your Wi-Fi setting to “off” when done. Even if you are no longer connected to a network, your computer can still be transmitting data to any network in range.

• Do not use the same passwords for different sites. If a hacker gains access to one of your accounts, they could access many of your accounts.

You are always running a risk when using public Wi-Fi but by following these tips you help avoid your personal data falling into malicious hands.

By Cheryl Parson

Better Business Bureau

Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at

Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at

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