Free WiFiBy a show of hands, how many of you have you ever visited a Starbucks, Peets, McDonalds, hotel, library, an airport or some other location with free WiFi? Duh, of course you have!

Did you see anyone using a notebook computer  in the location?  Again, of course you have!

While using the free WiFi have you accessed the Internet, sent email or completed a financial transaction?  And for the third time, the answer is, well, of course!

No, this not a quiz to see how many inane questions I can ask, it is simply a
demonstration of the lack of awareness most people display while using their WWW devices in public places.

Many public WiFi networks are not secure, which means your information is not secure when you send to, or receive information from, the world wide web.  You may also like to consider that not everyone using their mobile device in your proximity is doing so for legitimate reasons.  The businessman, student, delivery guy or traveler seated at the next table may have  nefarious intent and you may be the next victim.

My goal in writing this post is not to scare you into NOT using your devices when out and about.  I know that won’t work (it doesn’t for me), but I would like you to consider the following precautions before you next use a public WiFi and agree to the “Terms and Conditions” which you haven’t even read!

1. Assume all WiFi networks are unsecured, until proven otherwise!
2. When you are on the road, ensure you control which networks your device accesses.  That is, set your phone or computer to manually select a network. For example, in the iPhone “Settings” select OFF for “Ask to Join Networks”.  This causes the phone to connect to known networks only.  You will have to manually select an unknown network.
3. Ensure the URL for the WiFi network is correct.  If you have any doubts speak to an employee or person in authority to determine the correct address.
4.  Avoid using unsecured hot spots if you can, which you probably won’t be able to.  In this instance, limit your Internet interaction to tasks which do not require passwords, AND only use a device that has sensitive information secured.  On the iPhone there a number of excellent apps for this purpose. I particularly like LockBox Pro.
5. If you are using a secured network, remember you must still only use encrypted sites (https) to send confidential, financial and sensitive information.
6. If you must transmit private information while remote from home or office, install encryption software on your computer.
7. Make sure your passwords are secure and difficult to compromise, i.e. include letters (upper and lower case), numbers and symbols.  Avoid words you can find in the dictionary, and NEVER use your name, your pet’s name or “password”.  Furthermore, don’t use the same password for all applications.

If you absolutely cannot resist  using your web enabled devices on the fly, opt for your smart phone over the computer.  They apparently pose a much greater challenge for would  be cyber snoops and  thieves.  Finally, to paraphrase Woody Allen’s immortal words, “It’s not paranoia if they are actually out to get you.”