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September 04, 2012

Tips to Prevent Hacking When Using Wi-Fi in Public Areas

By Ashok Bindra, TMCnet Contributor

As students return to school with the latest in mobile gadgetry – laptops, smartphones and tablets – they’re susceptible to hacking. Public hotspots are incredibly easy to hack with free online tools, making students an ideal target. 

That's why Sean Sullivan of the Internet security firm F-Secure has put together some tips for students to make sure their content and devices stay safe when using public Wi-Fi at a coffee shop, library or even the airport when visiting home.

The first tip suggests setting e-mail to always use a secure HTTPS URL. If the URL an individual is viewing doesn’t begin with HTTPS, his or her login, password and e-mail communications are being transmitted in plain text.

As a result, it can be easily read by anyone "listening" in, says Sullivan.

The “HTTPS” in green text at the top of the page indicates that the user’s data is now encrypted and secure, including e-mails and passwords.

To ensure you’re using https URLs, Gmail users must click on the icon in the top right that looks like a gear, go to settings, scroll down and select the option "Always use https" under your "browser setting." 

Likewise, Hotmail users (now are to visit and select the same option. 

Second, check if your coffee shop/local airport offers free Wi-Fi. Before selecting the network, make sure it is not a phony hotspot, set up to steal your information – commonly referred to as an "evil twin."

For usage in coffee shops, Sullivan suggests asking the barista to give the network name or just have him or her point it out on your list of available networks. Anytime there are several networks similarly named, it is ground for concern.

The user can also install free browser plug-ins that force. Similarly, before going to the airport, visit  to check ahead of time. Though most airports advertise free Wi-Fi within the terminals, it is good to ask an airport employee if it's not publicly listed. 

The third tip relates to avoiding the use of your mobile device on free Wi-Fi networks. According to the expert, “It's best practice to use the 3G/4G network vs. a public Wi-Fi, as mobile devices don't have any firewalls to prevent hackers.” While your mobile device might not have any ports open, being on an open Wi-Fi network without any security measures is ill advised, as it only takes one time for hackers to reel in your data.

The urgency to have an anti-malware program becomes greater when traveling and using your device as your primary method of accessing the Web, asserts Sullivan. “The ability to detect phishing pages and malicious links will be important,” according to Sullivan.

Lastly, “Purge your Wi-Fi list.” You will notice that there are potentially dozens of networks that your device has saved to memory to facilitate the process of connecting the next time you are within range of this network. “It's a convenient little feature, but do you always want that with a public hotspot?”

Nevertheless, if you have a Windows machine, go into your "Network and Sharing Center" through your start menu, and click on the "Manage Wireless Networks" and delete selected profiles.

Similarly, for Mac users, Sullivan recommends clicking on your Wireless icon at the top of your screen, opening your network preferences, and exploring advanced settings to manually remove the selected networks.

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Edited by Braden Becker

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