Most people take for granted that if they have a question or want to look up information, they can jump onto the internet and the answers will be at their fingertips. Kids today understand that they need to keep passwords private and that they have to be responsible about caring for expensive gadgets like tablets, laptops and smartphones when they’re being used away from home or their classrooms. But as WiFi becomes more available wherever we go, the internet can falsely appear to be a seamless, safe space when we move from home or the classroom into public spaces.
Parents and teachers still need to remind young people to keep in mind that how they connect to the internet in public is as important as keeping passwords private and not interacting with strangers online. Teaching your kids to always take a few mindful steps when connecting online in public can ensure that they don’t get more than they bargained for when surfing the net on open networks.
When in doubt, use your data
Now that wireless data packages are becoming more or less limitless, the hands-down best practice according to Wired.com for internet use in public is to use your own phone as a private password-encrypted data hotspot. If that’s not possible, it’s important to keep in mind that no public WiFi service can be 100% secure.
Learn which networks are safe to use
If your children need to use public WiFi, remind them to be sure they know who is providing the service and to only sign on to networks they trust. Keep in mind, scammers can create very legitimate looking login pages. If in doubt, or if the page looks fake – misspellings in the URL or the colours are off – they can ask an employee if WiFi connection is legitimate. The number one way for hackers to access personal information and other sensitive information is to lure users into signing onto fake hotspots. Even if a WiFi service is legitimate, other users may still be trying to phish from your public online activities, so doing banking or other sensitive activities that require private passwords should be avoided on public networks.
Always click the “forget network” option
Companies like Starbucks and other large chains offer free internet access but can be cumbersome to sign on to because they may ask for information like email accounts and phone numbers. Allowing devices to automatically connect to frequently used spaces can be tempting. However, it’s best to limit the number of networks your devices automatically connect with and be sure to set up devices to ask if a public network is legitimate each time before signing on.
Turn off file sharing
Devices connected to public networks should also have file sharing preferences turned off, except for in specific circumstances like working on a group project and be sure to have firewalls active when using public services as well. When file sharing is active, hackers might be able to access any files on the connected device. So, turning this capability on and off as needed in public should be a required habit.
Use only HTTPS sites
While surfing on a public WiFi connection, teach children to avoid pages that aren’t encrypted with the HTTPS protocol. This encryption stops other people using the same public WiFi from snooping on their activities and will help them avoid insecure sites in general.
Turn on firewalls
Firewall warnings are often annoying when we’re using the internet on a secure system at home, so most people tend to turn them down or turn them off completely. But firewalls protect devices from malware and other malicious attacks from unsafe websites, so it should become a habit to turn them back on whenever using public WiFi networks.