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06/06/2013

How to stay safe on public wi-fi hotspots

With the number of Wi-Fi hotspots in Kenya increasing, it's getting easier to connect your laptop, smartphone or tablet to a public wireless broadband connection. But due to our eagerness to check emails while sipping coffee at Java, or while taking a ride on a Rongai Matatu with wi-fi (true story), we often forget about the substantial security and privacy-risks presented by insecure connections. Here’s how you can protect your privacy while using public Wi-Fi hotspots.

Connection type
It's always a good idea to understand what type of W-Fi connection you're accessing, so you can better adjust your online behaviour. The most insecure network type is an unencrypted network, which basically leaves your data completely exposed. An unencrypted network will also mean someone
could hijack your browsing and redirect your computer or phone to whatever dodgy website they want.
If the network you are trying to connect to displays a padlock icon next to the network name, then it's encrypted, which is very secure and should give you peace of mind while browsing.

Beware of fake hotspots
Before you connect to a hotspot make sure it's genuine. The biggest danger presented by using public Wi-Fi networks is identity theft. A common technique is for criminals to set-up their own Wi-Fi hotspots within a popular location, allowing them to spy on unsuspecting users and potentially install malicious software onto their devices. So if in doubt, talk to whoever is providing the Wi-Fi connection and ask them to double check the network name and connection type.

Turn off sharing
If you're sharing folders, printers, or your music library, across your home network then you'll need to make sure these sharing settings are turned off before you connect to a public W-Fi spot - especially if you have a really embarrassing music collection!

Firewalls and anti virus
It goes without saying to ensure your firewall and virus protection software is enabled while using public W-Fi. Also it's worthwhile running a virus scan when you get back home, just to make sure you didn't pick up anything nasty!

Proceed with caution
Nevertheless, it always pays to be careful and avoid accessing sensitive information such as banking details or work-related data. If you're on an unencrypted network then you should simply assume you're being watched and limit your internet use to basic web browsing. Better safe than sorry.

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