5 On Your Side

Protect your computer, private data on public Wi-Fi

Posted January 4

Public Wi-Fi is popular, and saves time and data just about anywhere. But, if you are not savvy, hackers can easily get a hold of your personal information.

According to Consumer Reports, start by making sure firewall is turned on. It is the first line of defense against viruses and malware.

Dean Gallea, a security expert with Consumer Reports, created a fake Wi-Fi hotspot that let him observe and capture someone else's internet activity.

"I don't think people are aware how easy it is to do what I did," he said.

But, Gallea said, several tweaks can increase the level of protection.

One involves turning off settings like "network discovery" and "file sharing." Those will make it more difficult for people to see private data.

An "open" Wi-Fi hotspot makes a person particularly vulnerable because any hacker can join without a password. Using a VPN, or virtual private network, can add another layer of protection to public Wi-Fi.

"A lot of people are familiar with VPNs from their work because many companies require their employees to have a VPN if they log in from home or when traveling," said Consumer Reports' Jerry Beilinson.

Another important step is to set up automatic updates on phones, laptops and routers. And always install them when they are offered.

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