6 things you should know about free WiFi
TL;DR: Keep your banking and email activities only on private, trusted networks.
The days of expensive hotel WiFi and using mobile data at cafes are over. Nowadays, it’s so easy to find a free connection to the Internet wherever we are. In fact, there are people who even take advantage of their neighbours by connecting to their password-free WiFi networks without permission.
However, before you hook onto that free WiFi connection, it’s worth considering a few important factors first. Check out these 6 pointers on cyber security to keep yourself safe on wireless networks.
1. Using someone’s WiFi without authorisation can be a criminal offence
This is something that’s often overlooked, but unless the owner of the WiFi network has specified that it’s for public use, know that it isn’t. That means tapping onto it for personal use would be illegal. Under the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act, one can be fined up to S$10,000, imprisoned up to three years, or both for “leeching” off someone else’s WiFi.
Basically, even if they’ve left it open (by not securing it with a password), think twice before using their WiFi without permission. Make sure you get their expressed consent first - it’s not only a best practice, but also courteous as their neighbour to do so.
2. Be discerning when choosing your free WiFi
Providing “free WiFi” is one of the more common ways for identity thieves to steal personal data. Many of them set up free networks with deceptive names that imitate legitimate networks, such as “McDonald’s WiFi” or “NLB WiFi”.
Once you log in to these networks, hackers are able to access your device and spy on everything you’re up to. This includes retrieving any passwords or account information you key into your browser. In a worst case scenario, they could access your email account or your cloud to find private pictures, personal information or other potential blackmail material.
To minimise the odds of unknowingly tapping onto an identity thief’s network, disable the auto-select function for WiFi. At the same time, you should verify your wireless connection to ensure that you are not on a dubious network. Giveaways such as misspellings are signs that the WiFi network is up to no good.
If you find your device is persistently trying to log in to dubious connections, use the “forget this network” function to lock them out.
3. Don’t access any personal accounts or emails on free WiFi
What about free WiFi that is provided by schools, libraries or community centres?
Though these are more legitimate, there are ultimately still risks involved. Even if you’re indeed on an official WiFi network, it is prudent to bear in mind that free WiFi tends to be less secure. You never know who else is on the network, or what they’re up to. It can be dangerous to carry out any banking or email activities on the free WiFi network.
If you want to carry out any online banking activities, you should log out of any public networks before proceeding to avoid putting yourself in a vulnerable position to targeted hacking.
4. Avoid financial transactions when you’re on free Wifi
Many e-commerce platforms and payment portals are not as secured as you might think. While they allow you to save your credit card information on their platforms to provide easier future transactions, there is still a chance that identity thieves can hack into these sites to steal your shopping account information when you are making purchases on a free wireless network.
To summarise, you should avoid performing any sort of financial transaction – be it bill payments or shopping purchases – while on free WiFi.
5. Turn off any file sharing or P2P programs while on free WiFi
File sharing programs create a vulnerability in your system, which hackers can easily exploit, if you end up on their fake network, or if they are loitering on public WiFi networks. As a safeguard, you should avoid using any applications with file sharing qualities (for example, Dropbox), until you’re back on a secured network.
To turn off your file sharing services, simply go to your computer’s network settings (or just settings if you use iOS) and turn it off.
6. Stick to browsing on free WiFi, if you really must
If you really need to tap onto the free WiFi, you can. Stick to simple activities as a general rule of thumb, such as:
- Confine your free WiFi activities to browsing the web
- Do not log in to anywhere, unless you absolutely have to
- Avoid downloading anything
Being aware of such scenarios and taking responsibility for your own cyber health is important to ensure peace of mind.
For more tips and information on how to stay safe online, read our #BSHARP guide.