Protecting Yourself On Public Wi-Fi

You’re sitting at a table, desperately wanting to check facebook or email, but don’t have a cellular signal. You log in to the free Wi-Fi and type your passwords in. And that's when it happens: someone grabs your info, and you won't find out for a few days that it's been compromised…

How Is Your Information Stolen?

The biggest problem with public Wi-Fi is misconfiguration or limited security. Many public Wi-Fi setups use "open" configurations. There are many easy ways to break into these connections to “sniff” data. It is simple for malicious users to intercept phone data, gather information, and steal passwords on these types of connections. The best standard for Wi-Fi security and encryption is WPA2, which is what IllinoisNet uses. This encrypts all traffic with a unique key for your session that is very difficult to break. Be aware that even some “password protected” connections at conferences and coffee shops offer very weak encryption that is trivial for hackers to compromise.

How Can You Protect Yourself While Using Public Wi-Fi?

The campus Virtual Private Network (VPN) is free for anyone with a NetID and enables individuals to secure their Internet connection while using public Wi-Fi such as coffee shops or at conferences. By using the VPN you are securing yourself from misconfigurations on these public networks and malicious behavior by others on that same wireless network.

Rather than worrying about if a wireless network  is secure, use the free VPN to provide additional security. This additional layer of protection mitigates the risk from improperly configured public Wi-Fi.  The VPN does this by creating a secure tunnel between your computer and the University, implementing the university’s high encryption standard. To properly secure your whole connection when setting up the VPN use the “Tunnel ALL” connection. This ensures that any malicious users or misconfigurations on the Wi-Fi cannot be exploited. VPN encryption provides your baseline of defense.

To download the VPN client visit: https://techservices.illinois.edu/services/virtual-private-networking-vpn/download-and-set-up-the-vpn-client.

For more information see the VPN KnowledgeBase article, contact the Technology Services Help Desk at consult@illinois.edu or 217-244-7000. You can also contact your local IT Pro for assistance.