2/27/18 4:49 PM

Free hotel WiFi is one of the most requested services and is often the deciding factor when booking a stay. During layovers and waiting times spent at airports, the first thing we check is whether there is a free connection to use to read our mail and look at our accounts. We’re always looking for an open WiFi connection, but when we find one, we often don’t have the safeguards to keep the risks to our PC or smartphone at bay. Granted, the starting point is having an updated firewall and antivirus software, but let’s have a look at the five points that can help us browse in a more informed way.

Public doesn’t mean dangerous

Let’s start by explaining the difference: not all public WiFi networks are the same. The ones most at risk, which are best to avoid, are not protected by passwords; they may be inviting and look great on the list of networks without a padlock, but they are the least controlled channels. However, the most trustworthy public networks are the ones which require you to register or use a password. And if you are required to enrol, you should read the terms and conditions of use of the service. Furthermore, under network settings, untick the box that automatically connects your device to networks. “Forget” WiFi networks and always ask for explicit confirmation before connecting; this will guarantee a greater level of control over your connections.

Turn off sharing

Before connecting to an open network, you need to check the sharing settings of your devices, whether they’re Windows, Apple or Android. Deactivate all files that are shared with the network (even with the local network), check that remote log-in options are not selected, and turn off Bluetooth connections because they can be a gateway for unwanted guests. WiFi networks must always be disconnected when not in use so you can keep traffic under control (as well as saving battery life). Generally speaking, a good rule of thumb is to connect only when it’s strictly necessary, thereby avoiding making your data vulnerable.

Protected browsing with a VPN

One of the most useful precautions for browsing with peace of mind on public networks is to install a VPN app on your device. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, i.e. a private communication network that lets you browse while protecting your data. In practice, when using a VPN, all your online activities are hidden behind an artificial router that works as a “mask” which disorientates anyone who tries to retrieve your browsing history, geolocalised data and passwords. The most commonly used apps include SurfEasy VPN (free, with in-app purchases) for both iOS and Android; a handy extra feature of this VPN is that it highlights any unsecured WiFi networks.

Browse securely

When you’re browsing sites that require access with a username and password – whether it’s services that handle sensitive data such as online bank accounts, or seemingly less important profiles like social media accounts – it’s essential to pay attention to your browser address bar which must always start with Https, the protocol which ensures secure data transfer (unlike the more famous Http). For mobile browsing, it’s always best to use standard apps for browsing (such as Chrome or Safari), rather than trusting browsers integrated into lesser apps that might not be so up-to-date. You should therefore always remember to update your operating system and apps: sometimes all you need is just one click to avoid damage.

Two-factor authentication, just like your bank

It’s best to completely avoid sensitive transactions when you’re connected to public networks, but sometimes you can’t avoid it. For all those services which can be vital when travelling, it’s best to set your log-in with two-factor authentication under your settings: this way, each time you have to visit the website, you’ll be required to enter a second password (generated by the service and sent via SMS), a little like access tokens to online banks. The second password can also be generated by a special app like Google Authenticator (available for free for iOS and Android). Gmail, Dropbox, Twitter and Evernote are just a few of the more famous services that offer this option.