Staying Safe When Using an Internet Hotspot

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Wi-Fi hotspots are readily available in many public places. These internet access points let you get online without cellular data. Despite the advantages of quick web access, there are a number of safety concerns associated with the use of public networks.

Before jumping into security issues, let’s begin by breaking down hotspot basics.

What is an internet hotspot?

By definition, a hotspot is a physical place or access point where you can obtain wireless internet access.

They can generally be found in public areas, including:

  • Airports
  • Coffee shops
  • Restaurants
  • Supermarkets
  • Shopping malls
  • Libraries
  • Book stores

How to access a hotspot

To connect to the internet, you’ll need a Wi-Fi enabled device like a laptop, cell phone, tablet or e-reader. You must also have access to a public Wi-Fi network, have a personal mobile hotspot, or tether to your smart phone.

Public Wi-Fi networks

Internet hotspots are offered in many public places. You’ll get online by choosing the network you wish to connect to. Often, a notification will pop up to let you know you have been connected — or ask you for a password.

Mobile hotspots

  • What are they? | Mobile hotspots let you connect your portable Wi-Fi enabled devices to the internet within your cellular provider’s coverage area. You won’t have to rely on public Wi-Fi networks. Plus, mobile hotspots are more secure than unprotected public networks.
  • How to get one | Hotspots are powered by your mobile broadband carrier, so you must set up your service before using them. Mobile hotspot modems come in the form of both USB sticks and MiFi-style hotspots. (MiFi-style hotspots are similar to wireless routers that provide an internet connection on-the-go. They have a rechargeable battery pack and look like a small GPS system or an external hard drive.)
  • Is there a device limit? | Most hotspots put a limit on the number of devices that can be connected so there are no performance issues when you’re online.

Tethering

  • What is it? | Tethering occurs when your smartphone connects to a mobile data network and acts as a Wi-Fi router, providing internet access to nearby devices.
  • How to do it | Your mobile device and carrier must both allow tethering. You’ll also need a corresponding data plan. You may have to pay an extra monthly fee, or upgrade to a plan that includes this feature.
  • Is there a device limit? You can tether as many devices as you’d like. However, your connection may slow as more devices are connected.

How to avoid hotspot hacking.

There are certainly security issues when it comes to connecting to public networks. One major threat to your online safety is fake Wi-Fi networks, which are actually quite common. These rogue connection points are often unencrypted, meaning others can access your information when you send or receive data.

There are several precautions you can take to avoid cyber-hacking, identity theft and leakage of personal information.

Update your operating system

Regularly check that your devices are up-to-date on the latest operating systems as they are improved to fix bugs and security issues. These software updates are an important part of staying safe online.

Use a VPN

A VPN is a virtual private network that encrypts internet traffic, making it harder for hackers to get ahold of your data. VPN services can be obtained through both paid and free options. Windows users are in luck, as that software includes a pre-installed VPN client.

Turn on Firewall

Chances are your laptop contains versions of anti-virus or the firewall software, which help prevent web intrusions. Make sure this software is always turned on when you’re connecting to a public network as an added layer of protection.

 

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About Author

Alice

Alice is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism and minor in Spanish. A former Peace Corps Volunteer and international flight attendant, she has longstanding commitment issues when it comes to living in one place for more than a year. Her current interests include free yoga and mastering the art of coffee.

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