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Yesterday’s post was about how to stay secure when using public WiFi networks. Today, we’re sharing a few more tips on the topic. If you decide you’re going to use your mobile device on a public wireless network, you can take steps to arm yourself against hackers and other no-goods lurking online.

First, be a smart consumer. Do your research.

“When on a public network, try to make sure encryption is being used if you’re dealing with anything sensitive,” said Ben Bressman, a Columbus, Ohio information security consultant. On a laptop, you’re probably used to looking for the little lock icon that’s just left of the URL. “That’s one indication that data I’m sending back and forth is encrypted or secure,” Bressman said. “It’s a little harder to do on a mobile device because the sites don’t always have the same indications or as apparent indications that the data you’re sending back and forth is secure.” Even without an icon displayed, the site could be encrypted. Or not.

Forget about it if you get an error message

Also, try to verify the Internet security certificates of the sites that you’re visiting. This too is more difficult for a mobile device. Watch out for any certificate-related error messages you receive when you go to a website on which you’re about to send sensitive information. A message that the certificate is invalid or isn’t signed could be an indication that you’re not on the real log-in page for the website you intended. “You could be on a malicious user’s log-in page and you could about to give away your credentials,” Bressman said.

Block those snoopers

Another solution is to use a virtual private network, or VPN, such as the University’s VPN or other VPNs to which providers sell access. “It’s a way that you can send all your data in a tunnel back to the VPN provider and then out to the network,” he said. “Anyone else who is on the public network can’t snoop because your information is being sent in that encrypted tunnel.”

Still other best practices when using public wireless networks include:

  • Log out of sites when you’re done
  • Investigate the capability of your device to offer encryption
  • Use strong and unique passwords to protect your device
  • Use two-factor authentication
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