How to Stay Safe When On a Public Wi-Fi Network

It is important to always keep in mind that a Wi-Fi (or wireless) network uses radio to transmit and receive information. This means that unless your information sent over Wi-Fi is encrypted, it can be intercepted by other Wi-Fi receivers and read by strangers. Briefly, staying safe can mean curtailing or modifying your normal internet activity while on public Wi-Fi networks such as those found at restaurants, airports, hotels, and so on.

If you do need to use a public WI-FI network, there are a number of additional steps you can take to help keep yourself safe.

Basic Things to Do

  • Make sure you are running a host-based (software) firewall (see http://www.utexas.edu/its/secure/articles/firewalls.php)
  • Make sure you are running anti-virus software (see https://www.utexas.edu/its/products/antivirus/ for information)
  • Make sure your operating system updates are current
  • Use https:// (secure web connections) whenever possible. This ensures that your information sent over Wi-Fi is encrypted (for those connections only!)
  • Make sure no one is looking over your shoulder when you type in authentication credentials or other important information
  • Don't connect to unknown or suspicious networks (ask the staff at the location if they provide Wi-Fi; and if so, what the network name is)

 

Advanced Things to Do

  • Turn off file and print sharing on your device
  • Disable remote access to your machine (ssh, remote desktop, VNC, etc)
  • Use a VPN connection when connecting to UT resources (such as https://www.lib.utexas.edu/, for example). This ensures that your information sent over Wi-Fi is encrypted (for those connections to UT resources only!)
  • Unless you use the network a lot, tell your machine to "forget" the network when you leave.  This will prevent your machine from re-connecting automatically if you return to that location.
  • Turn off your wireless antenna when you are not using it
  • Consider using two-factor authentication for services that support it

Additional Information

For more information, see the Security Awareness page at http://www.utexas.edu/its/secure/articles/index.php#surfsup

Written by Eric Rostetter, Senior System Administrator
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