IT Security and Public Wi-Fi

When you're on the go, free wireless internet (Wi-Fi) can be tempting. However, connecting to public or "open" Wi-Fi networks is a big security risk. If you can avoid it, don't ever connect to public Wi-Fi. Alternatives to public Wi-Fi include:

  • KU faculty, staff and students have free access to secure eduroam Wi-Fi networks at many institutions around the world by logging in with your KU Online ID and password.
  • Bring your own Wi-Fi with you. There are numerous options for pay-as-you-go and contract service personal Wi-Fi hotspots. Or, set up a hotspot on your smartphone, if that option is available.

If you must use public Wi-Fi, it is important that you understand the risks so you can make informed decisions before you connect. Following these best practices and tips can help to improve your security:

  • Update, patch, upgrade software and apps. If something bad does get to your machine while you're connected to public Wi-Fi, having up-to-date antivirus software and apps may help.
  • Avoid banking, shopping and other activities involving financial or sensitive information.
  • Don't download or install anything. Only download, update and install software or apps when you're on a secure network.
  • Only visit secure websites. Restrict browsing to sites with a URL that begins with "https://".
  • Verify the network name before connecting. A common strategy by criminals is to broadcast free and open Wi-Fi. Look for a Wi-Fi info sign or ask someone who works there to be sure you're connecting to their public network.
  • Configure your devices for "infrastructure" networks only. Avoid connecting to “peer-to-peer” networks, also known as “hot spots” or “ad hoc” networks.
  • Semi-open is better than open. Networks that are "semi-open," meaning they require a password, but the password is widely available (e.g., coffee shops, hotels, etc.) are preferable to "open" or public Wi-Fi networks. Although preferable to open networks, when connecting to semi-open networks follow all the same security precautions for open networks.
  • Turn off file sharing. Default settings on your mobile devices (e.g., laptops, smartphones, tablets) often leave your machine vulnerable to attacks. Turn off file-sharing functionality to prevent others on an open network from accessing the files on your device.
  • Turn off automatic connect. Default settings often allow your device to automatically connect to available networks. Be sure to set your device to connect to networks manually, so you can fully investigate an available network before connecting.
  • Turn off Wi-Fi when not actively using it. Only turn on Wi-Fi and connect your device to the internet when you need it.
  • Forget the network when done. Default settings often allow your device to remember networks that you've previously connected to. If you must connect to an open network, set your device to "forget" that network, so it doesn't connect automatically next time you're in network range.