Public wifi has never been more popular. In many parts of the world, it’s common for almost every store or restaurant to host their own, free wifi. However, public wifi is far from secure. Anyone using any public wifi should be aware of the dangers and the best methods to stay secure while using them. While we’ve found that the best method for how to stay private and anonymous on public wifi is a good VPN service, there are some additional steps you’ll want to consider to keep your computer, identity and browsing habits secure.
Why Can’t I Trust Public Wifi?
There are a number of reasons why public wifi simply isn’t that trustworthy. These include, but are not limited to, all of the following:
- If you don’t know your computer settings, you may have your entire file system exposed to everyone else on the networks
- There may be malware or other viruses installed on the network
- Hackers may snoop in on what you’re doing by using your IP ports
For the most part, each of these issues can be avoided by using a VPN service. First, let’s talk about the advantage you’ll find with a VPN. Then, we’ll explore the common threats to public wifi and some additional fixes you might employ to mitigate those risks.
The Best Method: Utilize a VPN Service
The absolute best stay private and anonymous on public wifi is to use a VPN. Virtual Private Networks work by routing all of your data through a secure, encrypted server. All data is therefore anonymized, such that no one, not even someone sharing the same wifi network, can identify who you are.
VPN service IPVanish provides a helpful graphic, to sum up what this looks like:
When you connect to a VPN service, your data passes through the VPN’s secure tunneling service. You can think of it like a private tunnel on a highway. You pass through one end, and when you emerge from the other end, you’re at your destination. No one outside of that tunnel knows your actual destination. All they know is that you entered it. This acts as a two-way street for all of your data connections as well. When you receive data back from websites, this also passes through the secure tunnel and then directly to your computer.
We at AddonHQ personally recommend VPN service IPVanish for this purpose. IPVanish has distinct advantages for anyone trying to utilize public wifi. IPVanish excels at:
- High-level encryption (AES-256)
- Keeping data and usage completely anonymous
- Maintaining bandwidth while connected
- Providing multiple options for how to connect
- Providing protection against data leaks
- Providing usability for multiples and operating systems
One of the key benefits to IPVanish is the fact that this service also helps users get around built-in firewalls on a public wifi network, and allows users to get past geographic content blocking. Some public wifi services have rather intense firewalls installed and content blocking methods that prevent access to popular websites. Not only will IPVanish keep your viewing habits and your computer anonymous while on public wifi, you will also gain access to any websites that are normally blocked on that network.
Furthermore, IPVanish is extremely easy to use with a friendly user-interface, fast ON/OFF switch for the VPN service, and an automatic kill switch built into the service:
Using a VPN service like IPVanish will solve all of the issues listed below. However, the following information is helpful to understand the key threats that exist when using public wifi.
You’re May Be Sharing Your Files
This issue is more common among windows users, but it could be something you’re doing without realizing it. In Windows OS computers, there is a setting to share your file system while you’re connected to a network.
To check your sharing settings, do the following:
- Go to your Network and Sharing Center. You can do this quickly by searching “Network and Sharing Center”, or by right clicking on your dashboard wifi or Ethernet symbol and click “Open Network and Sharing Center”:
- From here, click on “Change advanced sharing settings”:
Check your “Network discovery” and “File and printer sharing” setting for Private, Guest or Public and All Networks. Make sure that your settings in all three are set to OFF. This way, when you’re connected to public wifi, you won’t share any files. This is a simple fix to ensure you are not sharing your entire file system to everyone on the network. However, it won’t fix the other two risk exposures.
Malware May Be Installed On the Network Itself
It is quite possible that the network itself has been hacked, with malware or other viruses installed on the network itself, or by hijacking the network so that it takes you to fake phishing websites. For example, in this image, a page that looks like Facebook is actually not the real deal:
As you can see from the actual web address, the site is not actually Facebook, but a phishing site made to look like one. If you were to enter your username and password here, the person behind the site would have both. Your account would be immediately compromised.
On a similar note, some public wifi connections require you to sign in, or even to install software before you connect. If you can avoid these, all the better. However, it’s advisable that you maintain updated anti-virus software in that situation. Nevertheless, this won’t prevent you from getting hacked if you connect to a compromised wifi.
Make sure you check the web address of common websites like Facebook and Gmail before connecting to those sites while on public wifi. Additionally, check to make sure that the website is secured through HTTPS. You can see this in the top right corner of the address bar. It will read “HTTPS” before the web address and there will be a lock symbol:
Hackers May Be Snooping In
When you’re connected to public wifi, technically speaking, your viewing habits are exposed to pretty much anyone else on the network who has a little technical know-how.
When you connect to any wifi network, you get assigned a unique IP address from a DNS server. That’s basically your computer’s home address while you’re connected to that network. However, your computer uses tens of thousands of ports related to your IP address to both receive and send information. To be specific, your computer has exactly 65,353 TCP ports and the same number of UDP ports. Not all of these ports are used all the time, so at any point, several thousand of these ports are open.
Open ports are essentially an easy way for a hacker gain access to your system. After identifying your IP address on the network, hackers can then send packets of data to your open ports. Through this message, they can gain access to specific programs that are sending and receiving data, gaining access to information you may be sending and even hijacking that data and redirecting it to themselves.
Quick fix: Make sure your firewall is on. Both Windows and Mac machines come with a firewall installed. Make sure that your firewall is turned on.
For example, in Windows, you can access your firewall settings by typing in “Windows firewall” in the system search, or going to Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Firewall:
In this instance, you’ll want to make sure that your firewall is turned on. We won’t bother changing settings on here. Your operating system is generally automatically set to most effective firewall settings for use on public wifi.
This is a good, easy method for low-level security, but it is far from secure and not the best method to maintain privacy and anonymity on public wifi.
Additional Benefits of IPVanish
We highly suggest using a VPN to ensure that you remain anonymous while streaming AMC and other channels through Kodi. Our personal recommendation for the best Kodi VPN is IPVanish. Here are just some of the other great benefits of using IPVanish.
Bonus: AddonHQ readers will also receive 25% off their first month’s payment on any plan.