Wi-Fi hotspots offer free internet access to anyone who can connect. But shopping on your own computer in public can be risky. Here are a few things to do before typing in that credit card number from a couch at the local Starbucks:
Turn on the built-in firewall protection that both Microsoft Windows and the Mac OS X provide.
Make your folders private and encrypt or password protect any sensitive files on your machine. The public network probably lacks any protections of its own.
Disable file and print sharing. Leaving these on makes your machine vulnerable to potential intruders.
Disconnect the Wi-Fi on your device when it’s not in use to avoid even the slightest exposure to hackers.
Check the Website
Before entering your personal and credit/debit card information, make sure that the website is actually where you intend to be. Here’s what to look for when you arrive:
Check the name and URL of the site. This step may seem obvious and unnecessary, but many unscrupulous sites count on users who slightly misspell the name of a more popular site. Entering Amazon.net won’t take you to Amazon.com.
Inspect the URL at the top of the browser bar. Does it start with “https,” which stands for “Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure”? If so, data encryption is being “baked in” while you’re on the site.
Look for a trusted service check seal, like Verisign. This means that the site is legitimate. However, you should click on the logo to make sure that it IS real also. A fake site can also carry a fake seal.
Look for the padlock icon, which indicates that the site is encrypted. The icon will appear on the web browser itself, not as a graphic on the web page.