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Sarah Young’s Cyber Crime Column 18/10/2016 - public Wi-Fi

Today is Get Safe Online Day 2016; a day which aims to educate, inform and raise awareness of online security issues to help consumers and small businesses use the internet safely and confidently.

Being connected is an important aspect of modern life for many people. Whether it’s flicking through your social media feeds over a coffee, catching up on the latest news as you wait for an appointment or doing your emails on the train there are literally hundreds of thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots around the country that allow people to get online to tick off the items on their digital to-do lists.

The prevalence of open access public Wi-Fi connection points does however create some risks that are often overlooked or unknown and this is the area I want to focus on this week in line with the Get Safe Online Day message of 'making every day safer'.

With limited amounts of data included with many phone tariffs, public Wi-Fi is something that a lot of people come to rely on to help them stay connected without racking up data charges. However, just like someone reading your newspaper over your shoulder in a café, cyber criminals can use public Wi-Fi to look at what you’re doing or potentially steal your information to commit fraud.

Public Wi-Fi networks are in many cases unencrypted - these don’t require a password to get in and the data you share between your device and the hotspot is visible to anyone within range. This means that using them to look at things like social media (which can contain a lot of personal information) can be a risky business.

It’s also important to know who you’re connecting to. Fraudsters can easily set up their own hotspots – once the user connects to it they can intercept your data, redirect you to bogus websites or upload malicious content to your device.

So how do you protect your device and data from unwanted attention? Here are some simple steps you can take:

• Use trusted sources: don’t connect to a network you don’t know. For example if you are in a shop or café you could ask a member of staff to confirm the genuine Wi-Fi details for their establishment
• Avoid downloading, installing or updating applications via public Wi-Fi
• Use mobile data services such as 4G in preference to public Wi-Fi: especially for accessing things that contain lots of personal information like emails, social network accounts or online banking services. Devices often allow you to set a cap on data usage if you’re worried about big phone bills
• Report suspicious Wi-Fi hotspots to the organisation providing it or contact Action Fraud
• Don’t use public Wi-Fi for things that involve your financial details even if the site has an HTTPS web address
• Protect your device - use a firewall, keep your security software up to date and look in your settings for encryption options.

It’s never been easier to get connected, taking precautions before signing in to someone else’s network can help ensure your data stays out of reach of cyber snoopers and will help make every day safer.

PC Sarah Young is the Cyber Crime Prevention Officer for Wiltshire Police. She’s been with the Force for 13 years and works as part of the Crime Prevention Team. Sarah is passionate about helping people stay safe online. To find out more about the latest scams and things to be aware of when you're online follow our @CyberBeeWiseWP Twitter account or see our CyberBee WiseWilts facebook page.

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