Consumer Reports: Protecting your privacy on public WiFi

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Before you open up your latest shopping app, there are a few simple fixes you can do to make sure your data doesn't end up in the hands of hackers.

So many of us are shopping on-the-go this holiday season. But you need to make sure you're not giving away your sensitive information to a criminal grinch.

It is critical, especially this time of year, you beef up security on your phones, laptops and anything else connected to public WiFi.

Consumer Reports identifies the potential weak spots in your devices and reveals a few simple fixes to keep you and your data more secure.

In today's mobile universe, you don't have to be home to work or shop since so many of us use public WiFi. But how safe is it?

"Public WiFi carries some risks. But there are a few things you can do to keep your data safer," said Consumer Reports' Jerry Beilinson.

It sounds basic, but start by making sure your firewall is turned on. It's the first line of defense against viruses and malware.

When you're on public WiFi, the biggest worry is probably hackers.

Consumer Reports security expert Dean Gallea created a fake WiFi hot spot, which allowed him to observe and capture someone else's internet activity.

"I don't think people are aware how easy it is to do what I did," said Gallea.

But several tweaks can leave you better protected on public WiFi, including turning off settings like 'network discovery' and file sharing', which will make it more difficult for people near you to see your data.

An "open" WiFi hotspot makes you particularly vulnerable, because any hacker can join it without a password.

You can also add a layer of protection to public WiFi by using a virtual private network, or "VPN."

"A lot of people are familiar with VPN's from their work, because many companies require their employees to have a VPN if they're logging on from home or when they're traveling. People don't really know you can get a VPN yourself for a few bucks a month and it adds a lot of security to their own computing," said Beilinson.

Consumer Reports says every adjustment can make a difference.

Another important step you can take to protect yourself is to set up automatic updates on your devices and always install them when they're offered to you.

Keeping devices like phones, laptops, and routers updated ensures that they are armed with the latest protections.

To read the full report from Consumer Reports, CLICK HERE.
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