Public Wi-Fi safety tips
If you're traveling this summer, chances are you'll discover public Wi-Fi hotspots at coffee shops, airports, hotels, bookstores and fast food restaurants. Having easy (and often free) access to the Internet is handy for looking up maps and other travel information, checking your e-mail, catching up on your social media and even doing a little online banking.
Before you connect your laptop or tablet to a public wireless connection, however, remember that in most cases these are open networks that are prone to security breaches. For example, they're commonly used by hackers to snatch your personal data right from thin air, especially if you haven't taken steps to protect your data or computer.
To help our members keep their personal and financial data safe from prying eyes, here are some tips to follow when using a public Wi-Fi network, according to OnGuardOnline.gov, the federal government's Web site designed to help citizens be safe, secure and responsible while online.
Don't assume a Wi-Fi hotspot is secure
Most hotspots don't encrypt the information you send over the Internet, meaning other users on that network–like that guy with the laptop sitting a few tables away–can see what you see and what you send. This could make you a victim of identity theft.
Choose the right Wi-Fi network
When choosing a public Wi-Fi hotspot, ask the establishment for the name of their wireless network and if a password is needed. This will help you avoid connecting to another Wi-Fi signal that may be set up by hackers looking to access your computer. Be wary of network names such as "Free Wi-Fi," unless the establishment can verify it is their network.
Recognize encryption strengths
Wi-Fi networks use various encryption levels. Those that are not encrypted allow you to connect to it without any password. This also means it's the most vulnerable type of network. Encrypted networks require a password to connect to it. Those networks that offer WEP or WPA are the most common type of encryption. WPA2 is the strongest. WPA encryption protects your information against common hacking programs, while WEP may not.
Ensure Web site is secure
Most retail and banking Web sites, including Travis Credit Union's Online Banking site, use encryption to protect your information as it travels from your computer to their servers. To determine if a Web site is encrypted, look for the "https" at the beginning of the web address and on every page you visit, not just on the page you sign-on.
Log off after you're done
When using a Wi-Fi hotspot, avoid remaining logged in after you're done using an account. Instead, log out fully and close that browser window.
Pay attention to computer alerts
Many web browsers alert users who try to visit fraudulent Web sites or download malicious programs. Pay attention to these warnings. Be sure to regularly update your browser, security and anti-virus software.
Create a VPN if you regularly use Wi-Fi
If you're a frequent user of public Wi-Fi, create a virtual private network (VPN) on your computer so you can encrypt the information sent between your computer and the Internet.
Enable your firewall
When connecting your laptop to a hotspot, ensure your firewall is activated to prevent unauthorized users from gaining access to your computer through the Internet or the Wi-Fi network.
Disable file and printer sharing
Disable file and printer sharing when you're connected to a public connection so that other computers on the network cannot access the resources on your computer.
Remove sensitive data from your PC
If you're traveling with sensitive data on your laptop that you don't immediately need, consider saving it on your office or home computer and removing it from your laptop. This simple step may help alleviate concerns that your important data might be compromised while using a public Wi-Fi network.
Travis Credit Union members who suspect their TCU account or financial information may have been compromised are urged to immediately call our member service center at (707) 449-4000 or (800) 877-8328 and report your concerns.