free-wi-fiUnderstanding WiFi
Mobile devices are great; however, their uses are limited without the ability to connect to the Internet. It was less than a decade ago that the primary way to access the Internet was to come home, fire up the dial-up modem, and wait for a connection to be established. Wireless technology has come a long way in allowing us to access the web from anywhere at any time of the day. It began with wireless enabled laptops, mobile phones, and more recently tablet computers.

Although wireless access has been around for a number of years, finding wireless access points outside of the home and office environment is fairly new. Restaurants such as Tim Horton’s and McDonalds both offer free WiFi to their customers. Furthermore, almost all modern airports also offer free WiFi for travelers. Although the Internet access may be free of charge, there is a big price to pay if you don’t take a few steps to stay secure. Read on to learn how.

WiFi at Home
If you have high-speed Internet at home, chances are that you also have your Wi-Fi enabled. This allows you to roam around the house with your tablet or laptop and connect to the Internet without having to plug into the wall. While many of newer wireless routers automatically turn on the security features by default, there are some that don’t. The main thing that you should be checking for is if your computer asks for a password when connecting to the wireless network. Some ask for a WEP key, and some ask for a WPA key. By using either of these security keys, all your information being transferred over the airwaves remains secure an unreadable to others.

If your wireless network is “open” or “unsecured,” your neighbors (or anyone off the street) could be snooping on your web traffic. Though it may seem harmless, by connecting to an unsecured network, you also make available your computer’s files to others for viewing and editing.

To enable the security on your home wireless network, look in the manual for an IP address for your router. Once you’re in the settings page of your router, you can change many settings, including your wireless security. When selecting the type of security, chose WPA over WEP, as it has much stronger encryption.

How to Stay Safe on Public WiFi
When at home, it is easy to change your security settings as described above. However, when at a public location this is not possible. So does that mean that you should never use public Wi-Fi? Not exactly. There are ways to stay safe when surfing the web away from home. If possible, try not to connect to open/unsecured networks. Instead ask the restaurant/hotel/airport if they have a Wi-Fi password. This would be the most secure way, but is often not possible. Instead many companies will leave their Wi-Fi unsecured for easy access to the Internet.

When connecting to an open/unsecured connection, make sure to enable your firewall and turn off file sharing.¬†Furthermore, if possible, always visit the secure version of websites by typing “https” before the address. This will ensure that any traffic between your computer and the website remain encrypted. For ultimate security, you can also use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). It may sound complicated, but there are many solutions that make it easy to setup.

Using a few simple steps and a couple of tricks, staying safe while using free Wi-Fi can be easy. How often do you connect to open/unsecured Wi-Fi connections when away from home? Has your email or other online account ever been compromised? Let me know in the comments.

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