Using free public Wi-Fi networks at airports is convenient when you are traveling for business, but it can be risky. To demonstrate the ease in which airport travelers can be duped by fake hotspots, Avast Software researchers conducted an experiment during the 2016 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. They set up three free Wi-Fi hotspots in the Barcelona airport, naming them "Starbucks", "MWC Free WiFi", and "Airport_Free_Wifi_AENA". In just four hours, more than 2,000 airport visitors connected to these hotspots based solely on those names. The researchers were able to obtain all sorts of data on those visitors, including what sites they visited, the types of mobile devices they were using, and details about each device and its user.
You do not have to avoid free airport Wi-Fi altogether, but you should exercise caution. Here are seven safety measures you can take to help keep your data secure:
1. Make Sure You Connect to the Airport’s Official Wi-Fi Network
You need to make sure that you connect to the airport’s official Wi-Fi network. You can check the airport’s website for the Wi-Fi network’s name (also known as a service set identifier, or SSID) before you leave on your trip. Alternatively, you can ask an airport employee for this information.
If you are running Windows 10 on your laptop, you could also use Wi-Fi Sense. Microsoft maintains a list of open hotspots that are known to be safe and reliable. Wi-Fi Sense connects you to these suggested open hotspots based on your location.
2. Add Passwords
Is your laptop password protected? If not, it is much easier to hack. Make sure that you protect your laptop with a password before connecting to a public Wi-Fi network. For added security, you can create passwords for individual files and folders that contain important or personal data.
3. Disable File and Folder Sharing
When you are in the office, sharing files and folders with other devices in your network makes sense. However, a hacker who gets access to your laptop through a malicious hotspot will be able to access those shared files and folders if you have file sharing enabled. So, before you leave for your business trip, it is best to disable file and folder sharing on your laptop.
4. Install the Latest Updates
Hackers create programs that find vulnerable computers connected to Wi-Fi networks. In just a few minutes, these programs can scan hundreds of computers, looking for operating systems and applications with known vulnerabilities that have not been patched. Once found, hackers can use these vulnerabilities to install malware on the computers. Because of this, you should make sure you have installed all the latest updates for your operating system and applications.
5. Back Up Your Data
If a hacker is able to access your computer and install malware, such as ransomware, your data is at risk. Backing up your data will help you rest easy should your device or data become compromised.
6. Do Not Perform Financial Transactions
It is tempting to check your bank account, pay bills, or log in to websites while you are waiting for a boarding call. Avoid doing any of these actions while you are at the airport, even if you know you are using an official airport Wi-Fi network. While most connections use encryption, you do not want to risk having your data intercepted.
7. Use a VPN
If you often take advantage of free Wi-Fi service when you are traveling, you might consider using a virtual private network (VPN). With a VPN, you can create a secure connection within an unsecured public Wi-Fi network, thereby keeping your data safe.