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Getting something for nothing is fun, and with the rise of free Wi-Fi access there is no excuse for not being connected. However, in the virtual world, danger can lurk in unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots under the guise of “free public Wi-Fi.”

Connecting to an unofficial Wi-Fi network could also inadvertently connect your private information to hackers who can gain access to all your passwords, including bank accounts, emails and anything else. The best way to protect yourself is to not use any network outside of secured ones you’ve already verified.

In light of holiday shopping, more crimes are taking place online where fake browser addresses can lure unsuspecting users into revealing passwords.

All right, now that you’re super paranoid about surfing the internet outside of the safety of home, let’s look at the ways you can protect yourself. FindLaw.com advises online users secure their information using a variety of passwords (because one stolen password may place a lot of things at risk) and double-checking the Wi-Fi network by asking a salesperson the Wi-Fi signal’s identifier.

FindLaw also warns: “Stay on secure sites. Some websites are secured with a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), which you can tell by the web address; it should say ‘https’ instead of ‘http.’ That extra letter means those sites are encrypting your information, such as credit card numbers and your user ID and password, so hackers can’t get access to them. If you’re not on a secure site, definitely don’t enter sensitive information.”

The Tech Talker site has four “Quick and Dirty Tips” for connecting to unfamiliar wireless networks:

Save really important tasks such as online banking for home

Try not to connect to any “public” or “unsecured” networks. If you absolutely need access to the internet, pay a few bucks for the secure option.

When on a WiFi network, look for websites that have “https” in the address bar.

If you really want maximum security, use a virtual private network (VPN).

 The Webopedia defines VPN as “a network that is constructed using public wires — usually the Internet — to connect to a private network, such as a company’s internal network.”
VPNs are a fairly simple tool that are frequently used to access personal networks while traveling or hide your browsing activity if you’re using a public Wi-Fi connection.

HowToGeek.com recommends trying free basic VPNs such as SurfEasy and TunnelBear: “SurfEasy has better speeds, but TunnelBear offers a free option, as long as you aren’t using more than 500MB per month.”

The best protection is the most low-tech one: When traveling, simply use the network supplied by your phone’s service provider.

How do you protect yourself online when you’re away from home? Tell me more in the comment section below.

 “Visible Digital” is a weekly column that explores digital technology and social media trends. Contact Bobbi Booker at bbooker@phillytrib.com or (215) 893-5749. Share your digital world with me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook @bobbibooker.

http://www.phillytrib.com/lifestyle/quick-and-dirty-steps-help-lock-out-wi-fi-bandits/article_41bce3c4-55c8-5163-ae5a-0080aedf84ce.html

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