Wi-Fi network usage has, for many of us, become part of our daily routine.  We’re connecting to these networks at home as well as from public “hot spots” — with the “hot spots” being available almost everywhere we go these days (e.g., coffee shops; bakeries; hotels; airports; libraries).  In fact, we’ve become so accustomed to connecting to the Internet that we might forget that we need to be careful to protect ourselves. We need to remember that the information being sent over them can be intercepted if the Wi-Fi network we’re using isn’t secure.

A secure Wi-Fi network is one that is encrypted.   If it’s unencrypted, then it’s unsecure.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has published an excellent, concise consumer tip sheet to help users protect their privacy when using Wi-Fi (www.fcc.gov; “FCC Consumer Tip Sheet, Wi-Fi Networks and Consumer Privacy”).

Here’s a summary of their top tips for protecting your privacy when using Wi-Fi networks at home and from a “hot spot”.

  1. Turn on the encryption on your personal Wi-Fi network.  You can learn how to do this by reading the instructions that came with your router.
  2. Activate the router firewall as this will keep other people from accessing your personal Wi-Fi network.
  3. Change the default password that came with your router to a unique password.
  4. On a public Wi-Fi network, remember that personal and financial information that you transmit could be at risk.  The FCC stresses the importance of only logging into or sending personal data to fully encrypted sites.  How do you know if a site if fully encrypted?  Look for the “https” at the start of the site’s web address.  You probably know this but the “s” stands for secure.  Also, look for the lock icon at the bottom or top of your browser window as that also indicates that the site is secure.
  5. Again, from a public Wi-Fi network, make sure the “https” is shown the entire time that you’re on the website.  The FCC cautions that some sites only use encryption for the page when consumers sign in but don’t keep it on for the entire session.  If the “https” isn’t on for the entire time, then everything you transmit won’t be encrypted.
  6. You should have your personal firewall turned on and configure it to give you better protection when you’re using a public Wi-Fi network.
  7. Think about turning off your personal Wi-Fi network when you’re in a public Wi-Fi network area but aren’t going to be using the Internet.
  8. Many businesses and organizations use an encrypted  “Virtual Private Network” (VPN) so their staff and/or members can safely connect to their respective enterprise network.  Make sure to use your organization’s or businesses’  encrypted VPN when outside the office.

The FCC’s “tip sheet” offers more details on these suggestions.  There’s also a link to their site to learn more about other Wi-Fi issues.