Public Wi-Fi Networks
Public wi-fi networks provide a convenient way to work or socialize online, wherever you happen to be. Take the right steps to protect your personal and University data whether you’re at home, traveling abroad, or just enjoying a coffee down the street.
Turn Off Wi-Fi When Working Offline
The longer you are connected to a public network, the more opportunity others have to eavesdrop on your activity. Turn off your device’s wi-fi if you are not actively using the connection.
Use Appropriate Network Connection Settings
Configure your connection settings to enhance your online security.
- Turn off sharing. You might use sharing features at home or on campus as a convenient way to allow other devices to access files, printers, or even remotely log in to your computer. However, when you are using a public network, you should always leave the sharing features disabled so that others cannot exploit them. The following articles will help you learn how to disable this feature:
- Enable your system firewall.
- Avoid using public networks for sensitive or confidential activity. If you need to access sensitive personal information or confidential University data, such as personal bank accounts, credit cards, University financial records, or private student information, either wait until you can access a private network or use a VPN connection.
- Use HTTPS when browsing websites to encrypt the data passed back and forth between your device and the web servers you connect to. Many sites, including commonly-used sites like Google, will automatically use an HTTPS connection when you connect to their sites; others will support an HTTPS connection if you add the S manually. Always check the address bar on your browser before you submit sensitive information like passwords to be sure the address always reads as https://websiteURL.xxx. If it changes to http://websiteURL.xxx, log out of that site immediately.
- Enable SSL when using applications that access the internet to encrypt these communications as well.
Automate Your Public Wi-Fi Security Settings
It would be greatly inconvenient to have to tinker with all of your network settings manually every time you decided to use a public network, and would increase the risk that you would forget to adjust something important. Fortunately, most computer operating systems and browsers provide tools you can use to define the settings you would like to apply for different situations.
If you are using a public wi-fi network, like what you might find at a your local coffeeshop or bar, or at a hotel or airport when traveling, always make sure your privacy settings are configured to protect your activity from prying eyes.
Firewalls are designed to prevent unauthorized users from gaining access to networks or devices. When you have a firewall enabled, all communication between a computer and the network must clear the firewall before continuing to its intended destination. The firewall blocks any communication that does not meet specified security criteria. This helps prevent hackers from gaining access to your data and devices, and from using your internet connection to propagate malware and other kinds of attacks.
A firewall may be software installed on a computer or a piece of hardware installed on a router or network. Your computer operating system probably comes with some kind of software firewall that you should keep enabled, especially when you are using public networks. See these articles to learn how to enable the firewall for your system:
- Enabling Windows Firewalls
- macOS Sierra: Prevent unwanted connections by using a firewall
- For information about Linux firewalls, check the documentation for your particular Linux distribution.
To learn more about firewalls and how they work, see the Knowledge Base article Desktop Firewalls (In Plainspeak).
If you are using servers and handling sensitive or confidential information, you should consider using a hardware firewall for added security. You can contact the ITS Security team at firstname.lastname@example.org for help in determining the best firewall option for your particular security needs.