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How to Browse Safely, or at least Privately, in Public Networks

Open up the wireless network manager on your laptop and chances are you’ll come across a string of available networks, most secured, but a couple not. In a pinch—you just need to check your email really quickly—you might select one of the unsecured networks, poaching wireless internet from an unsuspecting neighbor. On the other hand, perhaps you ventured quite knowingly to a chosen café, hoping to squeeze in a few hours’ worth of work with your latte. Risks abound in either scenario; care to learn more?

Why are unsecured networks unsafe?

Unsecured networks offer no protection to their users, enabling attackers to “poison” a browser’s cache (a storage area for data). By taking control of a file, a cybercriminal could replace the sites you frequent with URLs directing you to fake sites that then install malware on your computer, or steal private login details.

What steps can I take to protect my laptop?

One step is to frequently clear your cache, that repository of data on your computer. Browser settings vary, so be sure to look up appropriate instructions. WikiHow provides a useful guide for popular browsers.

Also pay close attention to the actual URL of your intended site. Some browsers or browser extensions offer domain name highlighting, which directs you to the actual domain name. On a fraudulent website, the domain name might appear to be that of a legitimate bank, but that bank’s name is followed by other spam-like letters and numbers—the real domain name.

Another precaution you might take is to enable private browsing. Once you turn on private browsing, your browser will no longer retain a history of visited sites, records of downloads, or any information that might normally be auto-completed (username or password, for instance). You can choose to always browse privately, or you can tailor each browsing session to your preference.

For a more detailed explanation of how the attack works, click here.

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