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Home  /  geekspeak  /  Are you risking it all on public Wi-Fi?

Are you risking it all on public Wi-Fi?

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It’s feasible within Australia to stay connected online for relatively low prices, especially if you make smart use of public Wi-Fi. It’s possible to get online from many public libraries, cafes, shopping centres and popular public locations, where the venue either offers Wi-Fi as a straight service (a la libraries) or as part of a hook to get you in the door. It’s extremely convenient if you just want to quickly Google up some details, check a map or send a social media update. Sure, you rarely get particularly great speeds, but you’re paying nothing for the service.

Or are you?

How careful are you when you go online to ensure that what you’re doing is for your eyes only? A recent study by Norton by Symantec, the 2017 Norton Wi-Fi Risk Report suggests that an alarming number of Australians are either unaware of whether they’re safe online when using public Wi-Fi, or seemingly don’t seem to care. 60% of respondents said they felt safe when using public Wi-Fi, seemingly without any checking to see if what they’re doing was secure, or by using other tools such as VPNs to ensure their information was encrypted. 59% simply couldn’t tell if a public Wi-Fi network was secure or not. Still, they’re very popular, with 83% of respondents indicating that they’ve used public Wi-Fi networks to log into personal email accounts, check bank balances and/or share photos and videos. This isn’t always a particularly wise option.

So what should you do? The general rule of thumb when using public Wi-Fi is to assume that just about nothing is secure. If you don’t control the network, you’ve got very little in an easy way to tell if others are snooping on your web traffic.

At the very least, that should give you pause for thought when using such services for any kind of sensitive information, whether it’s checking your email (remembering that your password has to be sent over the network to verify that it’s you), sending personal photos or any kind of online financial transaction.

However, that doesn’t mean that you should equally assume that all public Wi-Fi is a poisoned well with no recourse. If you’re surfing web sites using public Wi-Fi that use HTTPS encryption, which you can spot by looking at the full URL, which will commence with HTTPS rather than the more open HTTP header, or via a padlock symbol in your browser, then you’re part of the way to being secure.

It’s not generally a great idea to do any private financial transactions on such networks, such as online banking, but if you must for whatever reason, it’s wise to invest in a VPN (Virtual Private Network) application. A decent VPN will encrypt your web traffic, keeping it secure for just you and whoever you’re interacting with, and should only cost from $5-$10 per month. It might irk to have to spend on security, but the difference here could be $10 on a VPN versus having your identity compromised for all sorts of nefarious uses, not to mention your bank account’s contents suddenly and irrevocably heading offshore.

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