How To Protect Your Privacy On Public Wi-Fi Networks In New Jersey

by Staff

So, you’re chilling in New Jersey at your favorite cafe, waiting for a friend to join you for coffee. In the meantime, you want to check your social media quickly to check what’s happening in the world or shoot an email to your team members. Unfortunately, you’re running low on cellular data. So, what will you do now? Well, there’s always the cafe’s Wi-Fi network to connect to. So, without thinking, you ask for the password and connect to it.

That’s a mistake. Whether in New Jersey or anywhere in the world, public Wi-Fi networks are unsafe. These shared, unsecured networks are putting you at risk in the following ways:

  • Personal information sent over public Wi-Fi networks is sent as clear text, and anyone else on the network can easily see what you’re doing and steal your data. If there’s a hacker on the same network as you, they can pick up your passwords and other private details. They can use this information against you.
  • Public Wi-Fi networks put you at risk of session hijacking. In this, the hacker takes over an open session and steals the browser cookies pretending to be the user.
  • Another potential problem is called a honeypot. This is when hackers or thieves set up their own Wi-Fi hotspots with an unsuspecting name. When you connect to this network, they steal all your data.

Here are Some Ways to Protect Your Privacy on Public Wi-Fi Networks in New Jersey and Anywhere in the World.

  • Know the network you are connecting to

Take precautions before connecting to a public Wi-Fi network so you don’t fall prey to honeypots. You must ask an employee if you don’t know what the public network is called at the cafe or restaurant.

Before turning on Wi-Fi on your phone, you must ensure your smartphone or laptop is not set up to connect to networks other than your home or work automatically. This will ensure you know what network your device is connecting to.

  • Use a VPN

You can use a VPN to keep your personal information safe when you are accessing a public Wi-Fi network. This is considered to be the safest option when you are browsing the Internet on public networks.

If you don’t know what is a VPN, it stands for virtual private network. It acts as a protective tool between the server and the user’s device. The tool encrypts the user’s data traffic and changes the IP address to hide the user’s online activities from malicious individuals. You can look at this tool as a private tunnel that takes you to where you are to your desired destination and safeguards everything that happens in between.

  • Visit only HTTPS websites 

Do not visit websites that don’t use HTTPS. The ‘S’ stands for secure, and it encrypts everything you send and receive from the website.

So, when you only visit HTTPS websites and use a VPN, you can have complete peace of mind that your online data and privacy is safe. This is because VPN encrypts everything you say, and HTTPS encrypts the communication to and from a specific website.

You can verify whether you are connected to an HTTPS website by looking at the address bar of your web browser window. You will see the HTTPS at the beginning of the URL.

  • Enable two-factor authentication wherever you can 

Using 2FA or two-factor authentication is a good decision when browsing the web on unsecure networks. Enabling this feature means you will need a password and a one-time security code to log into your online accounts or websites. This makes it harder for hackers to steal data from your account because if they manage to crack your password, they won’t get the secondary code.

  • Keep the firewall on at all times 

You can keep the firewall on at all times while you are browsing the web.

A firewall is like a wall between malicious users on the network and your device. It will prevent malicious actors from illegally accessing your data and financial details. Also, it will stop unauthorized users from accessing your online activities.

Although a firewall alone doesn’t offer complete protection, it is good protection to keep it enabled.

  • Avoid accessing sensitive information 

Assuming you have followed all the safety practices mentioned above, accessing bank accounts or similar confidential personal data is still not a good idea when connected to a public Wi-Fi network.

Even if the public network claims to be secure, accessing or sharing sensitive information is risky.

  • Disable file sharing 

While on public Wi-Fi, you must disable the file-sharing option. Depending on your operating system, file sharing can be turned off from the control panel or system preferences.

Take AirDrop, for instance. It is an excellent example of a file-sharing feature you must disable when connecting to a public network.

Other General Safety Tips to Keep in Mind When Surfing the Web:

  • It would be best if you always used strong passwords that are difficult to guess. Do not use your birth date or your anniversary date as a password. Passwords must be unique and unrelated to your personal life. You can use a password manager to help you create unique and manage passwords. Also, remember to change the password for your accounts once every three months.
  • Be cautious when sharing on social media. Hackers may take advantage of you if you share too many personal details.
  • Do not click on unknown links or download suspicious-looking email attachments. You must always verify the source.
  • You must remember to install your device’s latest software updates and security patches. These upgrades will keep your devices protected against known threats.

Final Thoughts

Free public Wi-Fi networks are ubiquitous today. There’s one or two at every public venue, which adds value if you quickly need to access the Internet but don’t have cellular data. But this access and convenience come with risks. So keep in mind the safety tips mentioned above to secure your web browsing.

About the Author/s

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The New Jersey Digest is a new jersey magazine that has chronicled daily life in the Garden State for over 10 years.

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