Q: I’ve been following every aspect of the Sochi Olympics pretty closely, and I read an article explaining that essentially any device in Sochi is in jeopardy of getting hacked when connected to public Wi-Fi. Is it possible for a similar hacking to occur in the U.S.?

public Wi-Fi safeA: Good question! It’s important to point out that the danger of getting hacked in Sochi may have been a bit exaggerated. That being said, device hacking is still a threat to anyone using public Wi-Fi regardless of your location in the world.

How does public Wi-Fi make me vulnerable?

There are a couple of tactics that hackers can use to gain access to your personal information through Wi-Fi. The first is to hack the network itself and gain access to other users’ information.

The second is to actually bring their own hot spot or router to host their own Wi-Fi. The hacker gives the Wi-Fi some sort of generic name, such as “Free Public Wi-Fi” to make users think that it is regulated or belongs to the coffee shop or business you’re at. They’ll sometimes even throw in the company’s name to really throw off users into believing it’s the company’s Wi-Fi.

Both tactics allow the hacker to gain access to anything you’re doing on the Internet (as long as you’re connected to the hacked Wi-Fi). This means that any information you enter onto a website, such as your username and password, is visible to the hackers — unless the website is encrypted or converted into code in order to prevent unauthorized access to the information.

How can I protect myself on public Wi-Fi?

The threat to users accessing the Internet on public Wi-Fi is rather scary, however, luckily, there are some steps that you can take to protect yourself while using it.

1. Don’t trust any public Wi-Fi: Unfortunately, since hackers have found so many ways to access users’ personal information through public Wi-Fi, it’s best to just assume the Wi-Fi is not secure or safe. This means that if you connect to public Wi-Fi, be sure not to visit any website that you enter personal information onto, such as your bank’s website or Facebook. Even if the site is encrypted, it’s safer not to access any website that requires a sign in. It’s also important to remember that if a business requires a password to access its Wi-Fi then it’s not completely secure because chances are that the business posts the password publicly, which means that anyone can gain access to the network.

2. Keep all of your software up-to-date: This rule applies to any device that you connect to any sort of Wi-Fi — such as your tablet, cell phone and laptop — regardless of whether you connect to public or password-protected Wi-Fi.  Updates are created to fix or update issues with the software. These issues can be everything from a small system glitch to a possible weakness in the security of the software. Updating the software on all of your devices regularly can ensure the safety of your personal information stored on the device.

3. Use Internet security software: An additional step that you should take to make sure your device remains safe when using public Wi-Fi is to use Internet security software. You’re probably thinking “I only need that on my computer and not all of my devices,” however using Internet security software on all of your devices can not only protect you from malicious software but also alert you of a potential hazardous app or network before you allow your device to access or download it. Find out how to protect your device with the best mobile Internet security software.

4. Opt to use your data: If you’re ever out and about on the town and want a secure way to access the Internet, then you should consider using the data provided by your cell phone service provider. Even if you have limited data, this is the best option with regards to security because cell phone towers are a lot harder to hack or imitate than a wireless network. Also, be sure to disable the setting that allows you to automatically connect to any Wi-Fi, regardless of where you are.

Find more tips on how to protect your identity and learn more about the crime itself by visiting our identity theft protection blog.