Coffee ShopIt’s that time of year. Rushing through the airport or train station. Visiting family and friends. Slipping away from said family and friends to catch up on work at the local coffee shop via Wi-Fi.

But here’s the $64,000 question: Are you sure that Wi-Fi connection is secure?

We’ve written about the dangers of public Wi-Fi before. And since I expect that many of us are using public Wi-Fi during our holiday travels, I thought that a quick reminder about the “rules” would be useful:

  1. If you are exchanging anything sensitive, use a VPN. A virtual privacy network or VPN will provide a secure link from your wireless device to the server of the Wi-Fi network you are using. Without a VPN, that last link from the server to your wireless device is the least protected and most hackable.
  2. Use “HTTPS” as opposed to “HTTP” when typing e-mail addresses. In layman’s terms, using “HTTPS” tells the internet to connect you to that website using a secure (hence the “S”), encrypted connection. This is especially important when exchanging things like credit card information.
  3. Double-check the name of the public Wi-Fi network. Hackers trolling a coffee shop, for example, might purposefully choose a similar name that you wouldn’t question, but should. Make sure (by asking) if “Famous Coffee Shop Free Wi-Fi” really is the name of their public network.
  4. Use secure passwords, and a cloud service like Apple’s password manager or LastPass (no endorsement–just two I’ve used by example) to manage them securely.
  5. Turn off any setting that automatically connects you to a Wi-Fi network. Why device makers even have such a setting is beyond me. Don’t give those hoping to maliciously attack you a back door into your device.
  6. Finally, remember that any prompt to update your device software while on a public Wi-Fi network should always be treated suspiciously. Check with your IT department to make sure that updates have been sent. Or, even better, wait until you get home or back to the office. Few updates are so critical that they cannot wait a few days.

Wishing you happy (and safe) mobile browsing this holiday season!