How to keep your conversations private on free public Wi-Fi

Privacy

Here’s a sign of the times. Soon public Wi-Fi will be as be as common in New York City as pay phones once were.

LinkNYC hopes to install 7,500 kiosks over the next decade or so that will include hot spots, USB charging and free phone calls for anyone with an internet connected device. And these days, what isn’t becoming an internet-connected device?

Pay phones once came with their own privacy safeguard — a little door that blocked out eavesdroppers and even allowed you room to turn into Superman. Over the decades, as modesty went out of fashion, booths around public phones became less common. Privacy depended more on the volume of our voice and a reasonable assumption no one could hear the other side of the conversation.

Free public Wi-Fi presents a whole new series of privacy conundrums. However, it also comes with so many benefits that some people have proven even willing to give up our first born in order to enjoy connecting in public.

You can enjoy connecting with privacy on most public networks, as long as you follow a few basic guidelines:

1. Don’t connect unless you’re running a VPN.
“Almost every security researcher I know swears by them,” F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan told our Safe and Savvy blog. “Using a VPN like Freedome gives you a secure funnel that lets you use public Wi-Fi connections without assuming the risks.”

2. Make sure you’re connecting to the right network.
Verify you have the right network name of the kiosk or coffee shop you’re connecting to. If you’re not sure, it’s better to stick to your phone’s mobile network or just wait. Choose the wrong network and you could fall victim to a “man-in-the-middle attack.”

3. Check for the “https” in the browser bar — especially if you’re making financial transactions.
The “s” in the https stands indicates your session is secure and encrypted even if the network is somehow hacked.

4. Keep your device(s) updated and clean — before you connect to Public Wi-Fi.
It’s important to keep all your apps and software updated. But do this when you’re on a network you know for sure is safe. For general security, it’s smart to get rid of apps you no longer use and remove old files on a regular basis. “A lot of apps and websites have passwords and contact information about you stored,” Sean explained. “Deleting this data only takes you a few minutes with this new free app, and can save you the hassles that come from having your personal data compromised.”

5. Use two-factor authentication whenever possible.
A recent survey from Google points out that 89 percent of security experts use two-factor authentication for at least one of their online accounts,” our Micke recently noted. Facebook, Google, Twitter and dozens of other sites offer a backup way to verify your identity beyond your password. Here’s a pretty comprehensive list of sites that use two-factor authentication.

Once that you’re done, just forget the network. Here’s how to do that for Windows 10 or OSX.

There you go. Even more private than using a payphone.

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