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Tips to Keep Your Information Safe and Private While on Public Wi-Fi

By: Kevin Gardner

Today, you can find free Wi-Fi connections from several public locations. You can connect in the airport, at the mall, in restaurants and coffee shops, at the library, and more. Each day, these public networks are accessed by millions of people. In fact, three out of four people claim to use these public networks regularly. Unfortunately, what you and many others do not realize is that free public Wi-Fi is not always secure.
Even if you need a password to log in, this does not mean that what you are doing online is safe from prying eyes or nefarious hackers. While you may love being able to connect anywhere, hackers love this, too. If you try to use public Wi-Fi connections without having any protections in place, you may be risking your money and your identity.
The good news is, there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself outside of only using a VPN by looking into multi-factor authentication solutions. Keep reading to learn more.

How Do Hackers Use Public Wi-Fi?
When it comes to public Wi-Fi connections, there are two main ways that a cybercriminal (a.k.a. hacker) may try to gain access to your information.

One method is being on the same network. Once the hacker is on the network with you and others, they can deploy their methods to control the communications and data being sent and received. One technique that is used is referred to as MITM – Man in the middle. With this, a cybercriminal will intercept communications and capture all the outgoing and incoming data.

Another risk you face when you are on the same network as a hacker is sharing files. If you have this enabled when you are on the network, the hacker may be able to send you files that are infected with all types of malware.

Verify the Network, Configure, Turn Off Sharing
Hackers are smart. They have access to innovative technology, just like everyone else. Take time to read the network’s name carefully and if needed, ask someone at the business if the link is legit. You can also ask what the offering IP address is. Hackers can also set up fake networks, so verifying what you are using is so important.
It would help if you also turned your sharing preferences off when you are connected to a public connection. After you have verified the network, be sure to turn the file sharing option off. Usually, this is an easy process and can be done from the control panel in the operating system you are using.

Invest in a VPN
A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is one of the most secure options available to surf on different public networks. It is also an extremely useful tool for keeping your information secure when you have logged into a public network.
With a VPN, your data traffic is encrypted, and this serves as a type of protected tunnel between the server and browser. All the information that passes through this tunnel is virtually invisible to hackers. As a result, they cannot access it.

Another benefit offered by a VPN is that it can mask your IP address with its IP address from different locations.

If you do not have a VPN, be sure that you only visit encrypted sites. This will also help you protect your data from some of the threats that were mentioned above.

You can find the HTTPS label at the beginning of a website’s address. What it means is that the connection between the server and browser has been encrypted. This also means that any data submitted on the website will be completely safe from any tampering or eavesdropping.

As you can see from the information here, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself and your information. Keep them in mind to enjoy a safe browsing experience. Being informed will help you stay safe.

Jacqueline "Jackie" Annis is an industrial hygienist with the Office of Partnerships and Recognition, Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs in OSHA’s National Office.  Jackie’s primary responsibilities include developing and overseeing internal policies and procedures for the VPP, reviewing VPP on-site evaluation reports for process safety management information, serving as the National Office liaison for two of OSHA’s ten Regions, and facilitating the management of OSHA’s National Strategic Partnership Program.  She is an integral part of OSHA’s National Office team. 

She has served with the Agency for 36 years, including five years as a senior industrial hygienist in OSHA’s Office of Health Enforcement, Directorate of Enforcement Programs in the National Office and 17 years as a compliance safety and health officer in the Denver, CO Area Office.  Prior to her tenure at OSHA, Jackie worked as an industrial hygienist for the Department of the Navy in Alameda, California.  Jackie obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA in 1983.

Wayne Howard earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from UC Davis and has spent 12 years with Shell (at Martinez) refinery, 3 years with the consulting firm Process Safety, 15 years with Valero (at Benicia), and the last 10 years in the Corporate Process Safety Department. He is the Valero representative to AFPM's Advancing Process Safety Initiative.

Nathan Obaugh, PE is a senior engineer in the Safety and Operational Excellence Group at NuStar Energy. Nathan has over 10 years of PSM and process design experience in the petrochemical, refining and midstream industries. At NuStar, Nathan oversees all elements of the corporate PSM program and works directly on hazard analysis, process safety studies, PSM/RMP audits and provides process engineering support to the operations and capital projects groups.

Jared Teter, PhD is a senior staff scientist with a background in physics and hazards analysis. He has extensive experience in subscale testing of energetic materials and has served as program manager for several large testing and risk management projects. He has applied engineering and risk management protocols while evaluating the risk associated with propellant and explosives manufacturing, combustible dust, and other hazardous material related processes.

Tim Belitz has a degree in Environmental Health/Industrial Hygiene from Old Dominion University and a Master’s from Duke University. He has over 25 years of Industrial Health Safety and Environmental Experience and is a Certified Safety Professional. He has many years focused on Contractor Management and Process Safety programs.

Rob Walker graduated from Virginia Tech in Microbiology and Chemical Engineering. Rob has almost 35 years of experience working in the chemical plant and refining industry. His passion for Process Safety and Mechanical Integrity began very early in his career. Rob began with his current company, Honeywell, back in 2011.

Prasad Joshi has B.S. and M.S. Degrees in Chemical Engineering from two universities in India. Prasad has over 30 years’ experience in the business. He began with Honeywell in May 2022 as Principal Maintenance Engineer. He has worked internationally in Asia and Europe.