Steps to Protect Your Privacy and Data on Public WiFi: For Macs & PCs

Free WiFi is available almost everywhere — from your local coffee shop all the way to your favorite department store. With so many opportunities to get work done away from the office or home, it’s hard not to take advantage of it. However, take caution: working on public WiFi, or even password-protected WiFi (like one at work or a hotel), comes with a risk — the risk that someone could be snooping on your browsing session to try to steal your private information.

(To understand how hackers snoop on your session, along with secure ways to work online, you’ll first want to read our blog: “The Dangers of Using Public WiFi and Password Protected Networks.”)

Rather than stay at home, or work in fear on password-protected networks, here are some steps you can take to keep your Mac or PC more secure while using the internet on public WiFi.

How to Stay Secure Using Public WiFi

  1. Turn Off Bluetooth

Turning off Bluetooth is one way to block any outside attempts to connect to your computer. Keep in mind, however, that if you’re using a wireless mouse, this option will disable the mouse.

For Macs: Turn Bluetooth on or off in System Preferences or from your menu bar.

For PCs: Turn Bluetooth on or off under Settings > Devices > Bluetooth.

  1. Turn On the Firewall

When using public WiFi, it’s important to turn on your firewall — but only if it’s configured properly. Here’s what you need to do to turn on your firewall (note: Macs are automatically configured to have the firewall off):

For Macs: System Preferences > Security and Privacy or search for “firewall.” Select the “turn on firewall” button or unlock the firewall by clicking on the lock in the lower left corner and entering your admin account password. While you’re there, block all incoming connections. To do that, select Firewall Options and then select “block all incoming connections.” Along with unwanted connections, this will disable all file sharing and screen sharing from incoming connections. To allow specific applications to receive incoming connections, follow these advanced firewall directions.  

Keep in mind that Mac’s firewall only blocks inbound requests, which means it will only protect you from threats that originate from outside. Mac’s firewall does not have outbound protection, a feature that would alert you to attempts to connect out from your computer. Outbound connections are normal processes related to using email or the internet, as well as getting updates; however, they’re also used when unknown malware is attempting to connect out to send data or alert its controller.

For PCs: Turn on the firewall by going to Control Panel > Windows Firewall. Check to see if your PC’s firewall blocks inbound and outbound requests.

  1. Disable Sharing

Another way to disable your Mac or PC’s built-in sharing capabilities is to check and turn off your individual file sharing preferences.

For Macs: System Preferences > Sharing. Makes sure all of the boxes are unchecked. While you’re there, change your computer name to something less revealing. For example: “Roger’s Computer” is less revealing than “Roger’s 2017 MacBook Pro.”

For PCs: Control Panel > Network and Sharing Center > Change Advanced Sharing Settings. Turn off file sharing by turning off the file and printer sharing and public folder sharing options, both of which are found under the Public heading.

  1. Limit AirDrop Settings

If your Bluetooth is on, and you own a Mac, you’ll want to double check your AirDrop settings to see who can send and receive your files.

For Macs: Finder > AirDrop (from the list in the upper left). Under “Allow me to be discovered by:” you’ll want to select “Contacts Only” or, if you never use AirDrop, “No One.”

  1. Safeguard Against Fake WiFi Networks

The easiest way for someone to nab your login credentials or other private information is to lure you in with a fake WiFi network — something similar to the establishment’s name like “Starbucks Free WiFi” or “Starbucks High-Speed.” While they look more appealing than just “Starbucks,” they aren’t owned by Starbucks — they’re owned by someone hoping to steal your information when you connect. If you ever run into the situation where multiple names appear, ask the establishment which one is correct…and it may not hurt to let them know there’s a fake network posing as them — they might be willing to put up a sign to help protect their customers.

  1. Forget WiFi Networks

Another way to safeguard against fake WiFi networks is to delete free WiFi networks from your history. Why? So your Mac or PC doesn’t auto-join a fake one that’s posing as the real one. Your Mac or PC automatically remembers and joins any WiFi network that you’ve previously used — a helpful feature…until it accidentally joins a malicious one.

For Macs: System Preferences > Network > WiFi > Advanced. Uncheck “Remember networks this computer has joined. For more, here are step by step instructions on how to prevent your Mac from connecting to the wrong WiFi network.

For PCs: Uncheck “Connect Automatically” next to the network name or go to Control Panel > Network and Sharing Center. From there, click on the network name, then Wireless Properties, then uncheck “Connect automatically when this network is in range.”

  1. Use an Encrypted VPN

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) offer WiFi users a secure way to connect to a “virtual” network (one that isn’t really there) by “encrypting all communications between your computer and the VPN.” As long as it’s a trusted network, this should protect users from the usual dangers of public WiFi — like “packet sniffing.” Just make sure that your VPN is trusted and encrypts traffic. Keep in mind, however, that a VPN can have its own set of performance downsides: latency, rerouting every connection through proxy or VPN gateways, etc. Also, free VPNs may not be as good as you would hope. Make sure to do your research!

  1. Set Up Managed Web-Filtering, Web-Security, and Firewall Solutions

Professionally configured, managed, and monitored web security systems are the best ways to ensure that you and your employees maintain a secure work environment — no matter where you or they work. Among many things, our premium web-filtering and security services can protect devices anywhere (worldwide, within minutes), without admin intervention and with zero performance sacrifices. Furthermore, our managed firewall and intrusion prevention solutions eliminate the complexities of firewall operation, effectively helping you set up and maintain your business’ ideal security perimeter (including inbound and outbound access control).

Online Security for Businesses — No Matter Where You Are

Would-be hackers shouldn’t stop you from working remotely. Just make sure you take — and maintain — the right precautions to safeguard your information. If you’re ever in doubt about your company’s online security measures, or you just don’t have time to make sure it’s all getting done correctly, talk to the team of security experts at Integracon. We’d love to walk you through and manage all of your business’ online security needs.