Stay Safe on Public Wireless Networks


Coffee shops, cafes, hotels, and other businesses offer public wireless access as a service to their customers.

While this is a great convenience, criminals are also connecting to these same wireless networks trying to intercept your usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, and to hack your computer.

With a few simple steps you can be sure that your computer and web browsing experience is safe and secure.

1. Turn on the Computer Firewall

The firewall will help prevent other people or malware on the wireless network from connecting to your computer.

Turn on a Windows Firewall

Turn on the Mac OS Firewall

2. Only enter data on secure (SSL) websites

The secure site (https://) will encrypt your web surfing activity and prevent others from reading your data e.g. usernames, passwords, and email contents.

Learn to check for secure sites

3. Beware of shoulder surfing

When browsing the internet make note of your surroundings. Be aware of people trying to watch what you are typing such as your username and password.

4. Use a virtual private network (VPN)

The VPN creates a secure encrypted tunnel between your laptop and the remote network. The encrypted tunnel prevents anyone on the wireless network from intercepting your data or view what websites you are browsing. reviews the top 5 VPN providers, many with very reasonable pricing plans.

NU provides a VPN to connect to internal network resources and to keep your wireless computing activities secure.

NU VPN software and setup instructions

5. Turn off the wireless network when not in use

When you are finished surfing the internet, turn off your wireless network card. This is a foolproof way to prevent people from snooping on your computer and it is a good way to save battery life.

Instructions on turning off your wireless network card for Windows

Instruction on turning off your wireless network card for Mac OS

6. Never leave your laptop unattended

Every week people at NU report that their laptop or phone has been stolen when they walked away for only a few minutes. These thefts occur all over campus and local businesses.

Keep your laptop, cell phone, and bag with you at all times.

Additional Resources:

Article: Stay safe on public wi-fi networks


Image credit: Charleston’s TheDigitel/Flickr