Tag Archives: 101

Productivity 101: How to Use Personal Kanban to Visualize Your Work

Productivity 101: How to Use Personal Kanban to Visualize Your Work

The best productivity methods keep your to-dos in front of you and prioritized so you never wonder what to work on next. Some are complicated, but others make it easy to see everything, organized by priority—so easy you could use Post-It notes if you wanted. Let’s talk about one of those systems: Personal Kanban.

Personal Kanban is a productivity system that’s easy to get started with, only has two real "rules," and is designed to give you a simple, visual look at what’s on your plate, what your priorities are, and what you’ve accomplished. It’s a bit like other productivity systems we’ve highlighted, like Getting Things Done (GTD) and the Pomodoro Technique. It has a general structure you can follow, and a number of tools that can help you get started and, stick with it. It’s not a philosophy the way Kaizen approach is, but there is definitely room to tweak the system to work for you, and incorporate lessons learned from the things you’ve accomplished. Let’s start with what Personal Kanban is, then get into how you can use it.

What Is Personal Kanban?

Productivity 101: How to Use Personal Kanban to Visualize Your Work

Personal Kanban, put simply, is a simple system for managing your to-dos. Its biggest benefit is that it helps you avoid taking on too much at once, and always gives you a visual, at-a-glance look at your work. It’s related to—but not the same as—the Kanban lean scheduling and delivery method, often used in manufacturing (specifically auto manufacturing.) The idea of "Personal" Kanban came about when productivity experts Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry wrote the book Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life in 2011. The basic premise of Personal Kanban as a method of visualizing and prioritizing your work, is much older, but the book lays out how the system works, and offers specific tips for people struggling with overwhelming workloads and competing priorities.

Personal Kanban stands on two major "rules:"

  • Visualize Your Work. In short, you should be able to, at any time, look at your overall workload, be able to determine quickly what you should work on next, have visual cues for priority and time to complete, and that system should be easy to add, remove, and re-organize. We’ve highlighed a number of ways to visualize your to-do list, including Personal Kanban.
  • Limit Your Work In Progress (WIP). In other words, limit the number of things you work on at the same time. This does two things. First, it makes it easier to visualize your work, because you keep a lid on how much you have going on at one time. Second, it also helps you avoid the dangers of multitasking, not to mention burnout. Managing your workload carefully also teaches you how to say no without wrecking your career.

From there, how you go about actually implementing Personal Kanban is mostly up to you. You can use complicated apps or tools, simple bulletin boards, post-it notes, or notebooks. There are no official tools or products (beyond the book, of course). Benson and DeMaria Barry, however, have a few suggestions to help you get started, some of which you’ve likely seen before—both here at Lifehacker and around the web.

How to Get Started with Personal Kanban

Getting started with Personal Kanban is easy. All you really need is a spot where you can lay out and arrange your to-dos into a Kanban Board, or "a Kanban." The key is how they’re organized. A simple board is nothing more than a chart with three vertical columns: Backlog/To-Do, Doing, and Done.

Your "Doing" section consists of all of the to-dos you’re working on right now, or plan to work on immediately. Ideally, they’d be further organized by priority, so you can glance at them at any time and see which ones to tackle first. Your "Backlog" are all of the to-dos you aren’t working on right now, but need to get to at some point. "Done" is somewhat obvious, but it’s important to keep on your Kanban, since seeing how much work you’ve completed keeps you motivated and productive.

That’s a simple Kanban. If it sounds familiar, you’ve probably seen some of the many featured workspaces and productivity posts where we’ve discussed the merits of using Post-Its or whiteboards like this to organize your to-dos. Whiteboards are perfect for Personal Kanban. It’s easy to draw columns, then add and erase to-dos quickly. If you prefer, you can draw your columns, then use Post-It notes for individual to-dos. This makes them easy to move without rewriting. Additionally, Post-It notes come in different colors, which gives you an easy way to organize your Kanban by priority. For example, yellow notes can be medium priority, purple notes low priority, and red ones most important.

Now, every time you look at your whiteboard, you can see what you have on your plate right now and which of those to-dos is most critical. You’ll be able to quickly choose a to-do to move up to "doing" from your backlog when you’re free, and you can easily see when your plate is too full.

While the Kanban is important, it’s really just a functional way to visualize your to-dos. The second rule, remembering to limit your work in progress, is important as well. If you just keep adding Post-Its to your to-dos, you’ll get overwhelmed, and those visual benefits will be replaced with stress and anxiety. Benson and DeMaria Barry explain that it’s critical to keep your sequential work to a minimum. Put a hard cap on the number of things you’re willing to have in the "Doing" section at any time, or on the Kanban at all (keep anything that needs to move into "Backlog" in a binder, or on a Post-It pad until there’s room for it.) This way your Kanban stays organized and actually useful.

This slideshow (embedded above) is a presentation from the Personal Kanban web site with more specific tips to help you get started.

Apps and Tools that Support Personal Kanban

Productivity 101: How to Use Personal Kanban to Visualize Your Work

If your workspace doesn’t have the luxury of a huge whiteboard you can hang from the wall, or even a small desk pad or corkboard you can turn into a Kanban, you have plenty of other options, including some familiar names. Whether you work on the web, or prefer a downloadable app, here are a few productivity tools that leverage the Personal Kanban method:

  • Trello: That’s right, ever-popular productivity tool Trello is actually built around Kanban-style task organization. We highlighted it when it launched, and we’ve shown you how to organize your entire life with it. We’ve even shown you how to shoehorn it into a GTD-like system, but its visual design, focus on columns for organization, and its "cards as to-dos" approach makes it perfect for Personal Kanban. All you need to do is define your columns and start adding to-dos. You can even give them due dates, notes, reminders, visual cues to priority, images, and more.
  • KanbanFlow: KanbanFlow may look a lot like Trello, but it’s a bit more dialed in to the Kanban approach than Trello is. It adds an additional column—"Today"—so you can separate out tasks that are in-progress from the ones you’re going to work on right at this moment. Aside from that, the other elements are familiar: you can add notes and reminders to your Kanban items, keep them visually arranged by priority, limit your work in progress, and collaborate with others if you need to. KanbanFlow also integrates a Pomodoro Timer to help you focus and get work done. We’ll talk more about this in a moment, but the beauty of Kanban—and its tools—is that it integrates so nicely with other productivity methods. Plus, the site looks great on smartphones and tablets, no app required.
  • Evernote (with Kanbanote): Evernote alone isn’t a particularly great Kanban solution. Its focus is far from visual, although you can tweak it to be a little more up front with the notes that you add. Even so, it’s strength is in collecting and organizing information, not presenting it visually. Kanbanote changes that, and turns your Evernote lists into a visual collection of items you can act on. It even adds the three Backlog/Doing/Done columns for you. There’s even a companion Android app you can use on the go.

Of course, there’s nothing that says you have to use an app. It can be helpful, especially if you rely on your gear to get things done. However, if you prefer analog methods, you can always use a sketchbook and Post-It notes to build your Kanban, or just plain old pen and paper. You can even buy "Kanban for One" chalkboard and whiteboards, all set up and ready to use, in desk-friendly sizes. There’s no rule that says your Kanban has to be huge, or that it has to use Post-Its—they make things a little easier, but you should do what works with your flow.

How to Make Personal Kanban Work in the Long Term

Productivity 101: How to Use Personal Kanban to Visualize Your Work

The Personal Kanban approach is simple and flexible. You can use a patch of wall, download an app, or scribble in a notebook—and that’s the key to making it work for the long haul. Choose the one that works for you, and you’re hooked. The key is to find a method that compliments your workflow instead of breaking it, and uses tools you’ll return to instead of struggle with. If you have access to a whiteboard in your office, being able to quickly look up and see what’s on your agenda can be extremely helpful. However, if you travel a ton, using Trello or KanbanFlow is more convenient than lugging around a whiteboard.

We touched on this earlier, but another beautiful thing about Personal Kanban is that it works so well with other productivity techniques. If you’re a fan of GTD or Pomodoro, you can still use Personal Kanban. In fact, any system that uses a to-do list can benefit from the Personal Kanban approach. That means if you’re currently using another system, you don’t have to switch systems or give up your tools—you can just remix your method a little bit.

For example, we recently highlighted Chris S Penn’s masking tape-and-sticky-note to-do board, which relies on the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. While he uses that single board primarily, it could easily be folded in to Personal Kanban by turning his board into the "Doing" section, and adding "Backlog" and "Done" sections around it. Look at your own to-do list, and how you have it organized. Think about the things you’re actually doing in terms of that "Doing" board, and the things you know you have to get to but aren’t going to right now as your "Backlog." As you scratch things off and gain momentum, think of them as your "Done" board instead of just scratched-off tasks. It’s that simple.

Additional Reading

Productivity 101: How to Use Personal Kanban to Visualize Your Work

You should be able to get started with Personal Kanban from here, but we’ve only touched on the basics. For example, the method is just as efficient for organizing teams as it is for organizing personal to-dos, and it doesn’t take much more work to set up. Of course, Benson and DeMaria Barry’s definitive book on Personal Kanban is where you should start, but if you’re interested in learning more, here are a few resources to check out:

Personal Kanban may sound like productivity-speak, but the core principles are simple and difficult to argue with: Keep your eyes on your work. Try not to juggle too much at once. The rest are details that are up to you to mold into your perfect—and most productive—workflow.

Photos by Kanban Tool, Pumsuk Cho, Dennis Hamilton, and Nadja Schnetzler.

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Public Wi-Fi networks—like those in coffee shops or hotels—are not nearly as safe as you think. Even if they have a password, you’re sharing a network with tons of other people, which means your data is at risk. Here’s how to stay safe when you’re out and about.

Just because most wireless routers have a firewall to protect you from the internet doesn’t mean you’re protected from others connected to the same network. It’s remarkably easy to steal someone’s username and password, or see what they’re doing just by being on the same network. Don’t take that chance. We’re going to show you which settings are the most important ones, as well as how to automatically change your settings to the appropriate level of security every time you connect to a public network.

Blast from the past is a weekly feature at Lifehacker in which we revive old, but still relevant, posts for your reading and hacking pleasure. This week, we’re reminding everyone of the importance of Wi-Fi security when you’re away from home.

The Settings

First, let’s start by talking about what settings and apps can keep you safe. Make sure these are enabled anytime you’re on public Wi-Fi, whether it’s password protected or not. If other people you don’t know are on the same network, you want to protect yourself.

1. Turn Off Sharing

When you’re at home, you may share files, printers, or even allow remote login from other computers on your network. When you’re on a public network, you’ll want to turn these things off, as anyone can access them—they don’t even need to be a hacker, and depending on your setup, some of that stuff probably isn’t even password protected. Here’s how to turn off sharing:

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

In Windows: Open your Control Panel, then browse to Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center, then click Choose Change Advanced Sharing Settings. Once here, you should definitely turn off file and printer sharing, and you may as well turn off network discovery and Public folder sharing. Some of this is done automatically by Windows if you specify the network as public (more on this later).

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

In OS X: Go to System Preferences > Sharing and make sure all the boxes are unchecked.

You’ll also want to turn off network discovery, which will be in the same place. This will prevent others from even seeing your machine on the network, meaning you’re less likely to be targeted. On Windows (as I mentioned), it’s just another check box under advanced sharing settings. On OS X, it will be called "stealth mode" and be under your firewall’s advanced settings (see below).

2. Enable Your Firewall

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Most OSes come with at least a basic firewall nowadays, and it’s a simple step to keeping unwanted local users from poking at your computer. You may already be using a firewall, but just in case, go into your security settings (in Windows under Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Firewall; and on a Mac under System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall) and make sure your firewall is turned on. You can also edit which applications are allowed access by clicking on "allow a program or feature" in Windows and "advanced" in OS X. Your firewall is not an end-all, be-all protector, but it’s always a good idea to make sure it’s turned on.

3. Use HTTPS and SSL Whenever Possible

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Regular web site connections over HTTP exchange lots of plain text over the wireless network you’re connected to, and someone with the right skills and bad intent can sniff out that traffic very easily. It’s not that big of a deal when the text is some search terms you entered at Lifehacker, but it is a big deal when it’s the password to your email account. Using HTTPS (for visiting web sites) or enabling SSL (when using applications that access the internet, such as an email client) encrypts the data passed back and forth between your computer and that web server and keep it away from prying eyes.

Many sites—including Facebook, Gmail, and others—will do it automatically, but keep an eye on the address bar and make sure the "s" in "https" is always there when you’re exchanging sensitive information. If it disappears, you should log out immediately. Other sites will default to HTTP connections, but support HTTPS if you manually type it in.

Note that if the sensitive browsing can wait—especially if it’s something very sensitive like banking or credit card info—you should just wait to do that sensitive browsing at home. There’s no reason to risk more than you have to.

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

If you access your email from a desktop client such as Outlook or Apple Mail, You’ll want to make sure that your accounts are SSL encrypted in their settings. If not, people could not only theoretically read your emails, but also get your usernames, passwords, or anything else they wanted. You’ll need to make sure your domain supports it, and sometimes the setup might require different settings or ports—it’s not just a matter of checking the "use SSL" box—so check your email account’s help page for more details. If it doesn’t support SSL, make sure you quit the application when you’re on a public network.

4. Consider Using a Virtual Private Network

Unfortunately, not all sites offer SSL encryption. Other search engines and email providers may still be vulnerable to people watching your activity, so if you use one of these sites frequently (or really just want the extra protection), you may want to try using a VPN, or virtual private network. These services let you route all your activity through a separate secure, private network, thus giving you the security of a private network even though you’re on a public one.

You have a lot of choices, and we’ve rounded up some of the best VPNs here—but if you don’t feel like doing the research, we recommend CyberGhost as a dead simple, free option. Install it on your computer, turn it on whenever you’re on a public network, and you’ll be much safer than without it.

5. Turn Wi-Fi Off When You Aren’t Using It

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

If you want to guarantee your security and you’re not actively using the internet, simply turn off your Wi-Fi. This is extremely easy in both Windows and OS X. In Windows, you can just right-click on the wireless icon in the taskbar to turn it off. On a Mac, just click the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar and select the turn off AirPort option. Again, this isn’t all that useful if you need the internet, but when you’re not actively using it, it’s not a bad idea to just turn it off for the time being. The longer you stay connected, the longer people have to notice you’re there and start snooping around.

How to Automate Your Public Wi-Fi Security Settings

Obviously, you don’t want to have to manually adjust all of these settings every single time you go back and forth between the coffee shop and your secure home network. Luckily, there are a few ways to automate the process so you automatically get extra protection when connected to a public Wi-Fi network.

On Windows

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

When you first connect to any given network on Windows, you’ll be asked whether you’re connecting to a network at your home, work, or if it’s public. Each of these choices will flip the switch on a preset list of settings. The public setting, naturally, will give you the most security. You can customize what each of the presets entails by opening your Control Panel and navigating to Network and Sharing Center > Advanced Sharing Settings. From there, you can turn network discovery, file sharing, public folder sharing, media streaming, and other options on or off for the different profiles.

That’s a good start, but if you want a bit more control, previously mentioned NetSetMan is a great program to customize your network profiles for different networks; you choose your IP address, DNS server, or even run scripts (opening the window for pretty much any action) every time you connect to one of your preset networks.

On OS X

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

OS X doesn’t have these options built-in like Windows, but an app like ControlPlane can do a fair amount of customization. With it, you can turn on your firewall, turn off sharing, connect to a VPN, and a whole lot more, all depending on the network you’ve connected to.

In Your Browser

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

The previously mentioned HTTPS Everywhere Firefox extension automatically chooses the secure HTTPS option for a bunch of popular web sites, including the New York Times, Twitter, Facebook, Google Search, and others, ensuring secure HTTPS connections to any supported web site, every time you visit. You can even add your own to their XML config file. Note that as a Firefox extension, this works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Consider a "Safety First" Approach

If you’re a real road warrior, you may find yourself adding so many profiles that automating your safe settings at every step along the way may seem like a lot of work. While most chains like Starbucks or McDonald’s should have the same names for each of their Wi-Fi networks (and thus your profiles will carry over), a better approach may be to make your more secure settings the default for your system, and create just one profile for your home network. Thus, by default, file sharing would be turned off, your firewall would be at its most secure state, and so on—then, when you return home to your protected network, you can have Airport Location or NetSetMan turn your less secure settings on.


This isn’t all-encompassing by any means, but should give you a good quick checklist of things you should do every time you connect to a public network. There are certainly a number of other things you could do (such as setting up a SOCKS proxy over SSH or installing these extensions), but these steps will take you a long way on the road to security when you’re browsing on those public hotspots. Of course, some of you already have your own public browsing routines, so be sure to share your safe networking tips in the comments.

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Public Wi-Fi networks—like those in coffee shops or hotels—are not nearly as safe as you think. Even if they have a password, you’re sharing a network with tons of other people, which means your data is at risk. Here’s how to stay safe when you’re out and about.

Just because most wireless routers have a firewall to protect you from the internet doesn’t mean you’re protected from others connected to the same network. It’s remarkably easy to steal someone’s username and password, or see what they’re doing just by being on the same network. Don’t take that chance. We’re going to show you which settings are the most important ones, as well as how to automatically change your settings to the appropriate level of security every time you connect to a public network.

Blast from the past is a weekly feature at Lifehacker in which we revive old, but still relevant, posts for your reading and hacking pleasure. This week, we’re reminding everyone of the importance of Wi-Fi security when you’re away from home.

The Settings

First, let’s start by talking about what settings and apps can keep you safe. Make sure these are enabled anytime you’re on public Wi-Fi, whether it’s password protected or not. If other people you don’t know are on the same network, you want to protect yourself.

1. Turn Off Sharing

When you’re at home, you may share files, printers, or even allow remote login from other computers on your network. When you’re on a public network, you’ll want to turn these things off, as anyone can access them—they don’t even need to be a hacker, and depending on your setup, some of that stuff probably isn’t even password protected. Here’s how to turn off sharing:

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

In Windows: Open your Control Panel, then browse to Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center, then click Choose Change Advanced Sharing Settings. Once here, you should definitely turn off file and printer sharing, and you may as well turn off network discovery and Public folder sharing. Some of this is done automatically by Windows if you specify the network as public (more on this later).

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

In OS X: Go to System Preferences > Sharing and make sure all the boxes are unchecked.

You’ll also want to turn off network discovery, which will be in the same place. This will prevent others from even seeing your machine on the network, meaning you’re less likely to be targeted. On Windows (as I mentioned), it’s just another check box under advanced sharing settings. On OS X, it will be called "stealth mode" and be under your firewall’s advanced settings (see below).

2. Enable Your Firewall

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Most OSes come with at least a basic firewall nowadays, and it’s a simple step to keeping unwanted local users from poking at your computer. You may already be using a firewall, but just in case, go into your security settings (in Windows under Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Firewall; and on a Mac under System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall) and make sure your firewall is turned on. You can also edit which applications are allowed access by clicking on "allow a program or feature" in Windows and "advanced" in OS X. Your firewall is not an end-all, be-all protector, but it’s always a good idea to make sure it’s turned on.

3. Use HTTPS and SSL Whenever Possible

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Regular web site connections over HTTP exchange lots of plain text over the wireless network you’re connected to, and someone with the right skills and bad intent can sniff out that traffic very easily. It’s not that big of a deal when the text is some search terms you entered at Lifehacker, but it is a big deal when it’s the password to your email account. Using HTTPS (for visiting web sites) or enabling SSL (when using applications that access the internet, such as an email client) encrypts the data passed back and forth between your computer and that web server and keep it away from prying eyes.

Many sites—including Facebook, Gmail, and others—will do it automatically, but keep an eye on the address bar and make sure the "s" in "https" is always there when you’re exchanging sensitive information. If it disappears, you should log out immediately. Other sites will default to HTTP connections, but support HTTPS if you manually type it in.

Note that if the sensitive browsing can wait—especially if it’s something very sensitive like banking or credit card info—you should just wait to do that sensitive browsing at home. There’s no reason to risk more than you have to.

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

If you access your email from a desktop client such as Outlook or Apple Mail, You’ll want to make sure that your accounts are SSL encrypted in their settings. If not, people could not only theoretically read your emails, but also get your usernames, passwords, or anything else they wanted. You’ll need to make sure your domain supports it, and sometimes the setup might require different settings or ports—it’s not just a matter of checking the "use SSL" box—so check your email account’s help page for more details. If it doesn’t support SSL, make sure you quit the application when you’re on a public network.

4. Consider Using a Virtual Private Network

Unfortunately, not all sites offer SSL encryption. Other search engines and email providers may still be vulnerable to people watching your activity, so if you use one of these sites frequently (or really just want the extra protection), you may want to try using a VPN, or virtual private network. These services let you route all your activity through a separate secure, private network, thus giving you the security of a private network even though you’re on a public one.

You have a lot of choices, and we’ve rounded up some of the best VPNs here—but if you don’t feel like doing the research, we recommend CyberGhost as a dead simple, free option. Install it on your computer, turn it on whenever you’re on a public network, and you’ll be much safer than without it.

5. Turn Wi-Fi Off When You Aren’t Using It

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

If you want to guarantee your security and you’re not actively using the internet, simply turn off your Wi-Fi. This is extremely easy in both Windows and OS X. In Windows, you can just right-click on the wireless icon in the taskbar to turn it off. On a Mac, just click the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar and select the turn off AirPort option. Again, this isn’t all that useful if you need the internet, but when you’re not actively using it, it’s not a bad idea to just turn it off for the time being. The longer you stay connected, the longer people have to notice you’re there and start snooping around.

How to Automate Your Public Wi-Fi Security Settings

Obviously, you don’t want to have to manually adjust all of these settings every single time you go back and forth between the coffee shop and your secure home network. Luckily, there are a few ways to automate the process so you automatically get extra protection when connected to a public Wi-Fi network.

On Windows

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

When you first connect to any given network on Windows, you’ll be asked whether you’re connecting to a network at your home, work, or if it’s public. Each of these choices will flip the switch on a preset list of settings. The public setting, naturally, will give you the most security. You can customize what each of the presets entails by opening your Control Panel and navigating to Network and Sharing Center > Advanced Sharing Settings. From there, you can turn network discovery, file sharing, public folder sharing, media streaming, and other options on or off for the different profiles.

That’s a good start, but if you want a bit more control, previously mentioned NetSetMan is a great program to customize your network profiles for different networks; you choose your IP address, DNS server, or even run scripts (opening the window for pretty much any action) every time you connect to one of your preset networks.

On OS X

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

OS X doesn’t have these options built-in like Windows, but an app like ControlPlane can do a fair amount of customization. With it, you can turn on your firewall, turn off sharing, connect to a VPN, and a whole lot more, all depending on the network you’ve connected to.

In Your Browser

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

The previously mentioned HTTPS Everywhere Firefox extension automatically chooses the secure HTTPS option for a bunch of popular web sites, including the New York Times, Twitter, Facebook, Google Search, and others, ensuring secure HTTPS connections to any supported web site, every time you visit. You can even add your own to their XML config file. Note that as a Firefox extension, this works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Consider a "Safety First" Approach

If you’re a real road warrior, you may find yourself adding so many profiles that automating your safe settings at every step along the way may seem like a lot of work. While most chains like Starbucks or McDonald’s should have the same names for each of their Wi-Fi networks (and thus your profiles will carry over), a better approach may be to make your more secure settings the default for your system, and create just one profile for your home network. Thus, by default, file sharing would be turned off, your firewall would be at its most secure state, and so on—then, when you return home to your protected network, you can have Airport Location or NetSetMan turn your less secure settings on.


This isn’t all-encompassing by any means, but should give you a good quick checklist of things you should do every time you connect to a public network. There are certainly a number of other things you could do (such as setting up a SOCKS proxy over SSH or installing these extensions), but these steps will take you a long way on the road to security when you’re browsing on those public hotspots. Of course, some of you already have your own public browsing routines, so be sure to share your safe networking tips in the comments.

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Public Wi-Fi networks—like those in coffee shops or hotels—are not nearly as safe as you think. Even if they have a password, you’re sharing a network with tons of other people, which means your data is at risk. Here’s how to stay safe when you’re out and about.

Just because most wireless routers have a firewall to protect you from the internet doesn’t mean you’re protected from others connected to the same network. It’s remarkably easy to steal someone’s username and password, or see what they’re doing just by being on the same network. Don’t take that chance. We’re going to show you which settings are the most important ones, as well as how to automatically change your settings to the appropriate level of security every time you connect to a public network.

Blast from the past is a weekly feature at Lifehacker in which we revive old, but still relevant, posts for your reading and hacking pleasure. This week, we’re reminding everyone of the importance of Wi-Fi security when you’re away from home.

The Settings

First, let’s start by talking about what settings and apps can keep you safe. Make sure these are enabled anytime you’re on public Wi-Fi, whether it’s password protected or not. If other people you don’t know are on the same network, you want to protect yourself.

1. Turn Off Sharing

When you’re at home, you may share files, printers, or even allow remote login from other computers on your network. When you’re on a public network, you’ll want to turn these things off, as anyone can access them—they don’t even need to be a hacker, and depending on your setup, some of that stuff probably isn’t even password protected. Here’s how to turn off sharing:

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

In Windows: Open your Control Panel, then browse to Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center, then click Choose Change Advanced Sharing Settings. Once here, you should definitely turn off file and printer sharing, and you may as well turn off network discovery and Public folder sharing. Some of this is done automatically by Windows if you specify the network as public (more on this later).

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

In OS X: Go to System Preferences > Sharing and make sure all the boxes are unchecked.

You’ll also want to turn off network discovery, which will be in the same place. This will prevent others from even seeing your machine on the network, meaning you’re less likely to be targeted. On Windows (as I mentioned), it’s just another check box under advanced sharing settings. On OS X, it will be called "stealth mode" and be under your firewall’s advanced settings (see below).

2. Enable Your Firewall

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Most OSes come with at least a basic firewall nowadays, and it’s a simple step to keeping unwanted local users from poking at your computer. You may already be using a firewall, but just in case, go into your security settings (in Windows under Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Firewall; and on a Mac under System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall) and make sure your firewall is turned on. You can also edit which applications are allowed access by clicking on "allow a program or feature" in Windows and "advanced" in OS X. Your firewall is not an end-all, be-all protector, but it’s always a good idea to make sure it’s turned on.

3. Use HTTPS and SSL Whenever Possible

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Regular web site connections over HTTP exchange lots of plain text over the wireless network you’re connected to, and someone with the right skills and bad intent can sniff out that traffic very easily. It’s not that big of a deal when the text is some search terms you entered at Lifehacker, but it is a big deal when it’s the password to your email account. Using HTTPS (for visiting web sites) or enabling SSL (when using applications that access the internet, such as an email client) encrypts the data passed back and forth between your computer and that web server and keep it away from prying eyes.

Many sites—including Facebook, Gmail, and others—will do it automatically, but keep an eye on the address bar and make sure the "s" in "https" is always there when you’re exchanging sensitive information. If it disappears, you should log out immediately. Other sites will default to HTTP connections, but support HTTPS if you manually type it in.

Note that if the sensitive browsing can wait—especially if it’s something very sensitive like banking or credit card info—you should just wait to do that sensitive browsing at home. There’s no reason to risk more than you have to.

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

If you access your email from a desktop client such as Outlook or Apple Mail, You’ll want to make sure that your accounts are SSL encrypted in their settings. If not, people could not only theoretically read your emails, but also get your usernames, passwords, or anything else they wanted. You’ll need to make sure your domain supports it, and sometimes the setup might require different settings or ports—it’s not just a matter of checking the "use SSL" box—so check your email account’s help page for more details. If it doesn’t support SSL, make sure you quit the application when you’re on a public network.

4. Consider Using a Virtual Private Network

Unfortunately, not all sites offer SSL encryption. Other search engines and email providers may still be vulnerable to people watching your activity, so if you use one of these sites frequently (or really just want the extra protection), you may want to try using a VPN, or virtual private network. These services let you route all your activity through a separate secure, private network, thus giving you the security of a private network even though you’re on a public one.

You have a lot of choices, and we’ve rounded up some of the best VPNs here—but if you don’t feel like doing the research, we recommend CyberGhost as a dead simple, free option. Install it on your computer, turn it on whenever you’re on a public network, and you’ll be much safer than without it.

5. Turn Wi-Fi Off When You Aren’t Using It

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

If you want to guarantee your security and you’re not actively using the internet, simply turn off your Wi-Fi. This is extremely easy in both Windows and OS X. In Windows, you can just right-click on the wireless icon in the taskbar to turn it off. On a Mac, just click the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar and select the turn off AirPort option. Again, this isn’t all that useful if you need the internet, but when you’re not actively using it, it’s not a bad idea to just turn it off for the time being. The longer you stay connected, the longer people have to notice you’re there and start snooping around.

How to Automate Your Public Wi-Fi Security Settings

Obviously, you don’t want to have to manually adjust all of these settings every single time you go back and forth between the coffee shop and your secure home network. Luckily, there are a few ways to automate the process so you automatically get extra protection when connected to a public Wi-Fi network.

On Windows

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

When you first connect to any given network on Windows, you’ll be asked whether you’re connecting to a network at your home, work, or if it’s public. Each of these choices will flip the switch on a preset list of settings. The public setting, naturally, will give you the most security. You can customize what each of the presets entails by opening your Control Panel and navigating to Network and Sharing Center > Advanced Sharing Settings. From there, you can turn network discovery, file sharing, public folder sharing, media streaming, and other options on or off for the different profiles.

That’s a good start, but if you want a bit more control, previously mentioned NetSetMan is a great program to customize your network profiles for different networks; you choose your IP address, DNS server, or even run scripts (opening the window for pretty much any action) every time you connect to one of your preset networks.

On OS X

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

OS X doesn’t have these options built-in like Windows, but an app like ControlPlane can do a fair amount of customization. With it, you can turn on your firewall, turn off sharing, connect to a VPN, and a whole lot more, all depending on the network you’ve connected to.

In Your Browser

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

The previously mentioned HTTPS Everywhere Firefox extension automatically chooses the secure HTTPS option for a bunch of popular web sites, including the New York Times, Twitter, Facebook, Google Search, and others, ensuring secure HTTPS connections to any supported web site, every time you visit. You can even add your own to their XML config file. Note that as a Firefox extension, this works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Consider a "Safety First" Approach

If you’re a real road warrior, you may find yourself adding so many profiles that automating your safe settings at every step along the way may seem like a lot of work. While most chains like Starbucks or McDonald’s should have the same names for each of their Wi-Fi networks (and thus your profiles will carry over), a better approach may be to make your more secure settings the default for your system, and create just one profile for your home network. Thus, by default, file sharing would be turned off, your firewall would be at its most secure state, and so on—then, when you return home to your protected network, you can have Airport Location or NetSetMan turn your less secure settings on.


This isn’t all-encompassing by any means, but should give you a good quick checklist of things you should do every time you connect to a public network. There are certainly a number of other things you could do (such as setting up a SOCKS proxy over SSH or installing these extensions), but these steps will take you a long way on the road to security when you’re browsing on those public hotspots. Of course, some of you already have your own public browsing routines, so be sure to share your safe networking tips in the comments.

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Public Wi-Fi networks—like those in coffee shops or hotels—are not nearly as safe as you think. Even if they have a password, you’re sharing a network with tons of other people, which means your data is at risk. Here’s how to stay safe when you’re out and about.

Just because most wireless routers have a firewall to protect you from the internet doesn’t mean you’re protected from others connected to the same network. It’s remarkably easy to steal someone’s username and password, or see what they’re doing just by being on the same network. Don’t take that chance. We’re going to show you which settings are the most important ones, as well as how to automatically change your settings to the appropriate level of security every time you connect to a public network.

Blast from the past is a weekly feature at Lifehacker in which we revive old, but still relevant, posts for your reading and hacking pleasure. This week, we’re reminding everyone of the importance of Wi-Fi security when you’re away from home.

The Settings

First, let’s start by talking about what settings and apps can keep you safe. Make sure these are enabled anytime you’re on public Wi-Fi, whether it’s password protected or not. If other people you don’t know are on the same network, you want to protect yourself.

1. Turn Off Sharing

When you’re at home, you may share files, printers, or even allow remote login from other computers on your network. When you’re on a public network, you’ll want to turn these things off, as anyone can access them—they don’t even need to be a hacker, and depending on your setup, some of that stuff probably isn’t even password protected. Here’s how to turn off sharing:

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

In Windows: Open your Control Panel, then browse to Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center, then click Choose Change Advanced Sharing Settings. Once here, you should definitely turn off file and printer sharing, and you may as well turn off network discovery and Public folder sharing. Some of this is done automatically by Windows if you specify the network as public (more on this later).

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

In OS X: Go to System Preferences > Sharing and make sure all the boxes are unchecked.

You’ll also want to turn off network discovery, which will be in the same place. This will prevent others from even seeing your machine on the network, meaning you’re less likely to be targeted. On Windows (as I mentioned), it’s just another check box under advanced sharing settings. On OS X, it will be called "stealth mode" and be under your firewall’s advanced settings (see below).

2. Enable Your Firewall

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Most OSes come with at least a basic firewall nowadays, and it’s a simple step to keeping unwanted local users from poking at your computer. You may already be using a firewall, but just in case, go into your security settings (in Windows under Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Firewall; and on a Mac under System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall) and make sure your firewall is turned on. You can also edit which applications are allowed access by clicking on "allow a program or feature" in Windows and "advanced" in OS X. Your firewall is not an end-all, be-all protector, but it’s always a good idea to make sure it’s turned on.

3. Use HTTPS and SSL Whenever Possible

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Regular web site connections over HTTP exchange lots of plain text over the wireless network you’re connected to, and someone with the right skills and bad intent can sniff out that traffic very easily. It’s not that big of a deal when the text is some search terms you entered at Lifehacker, but it is a big deal when it’s the password to your email account. Using HTTPS (for visiting web sites) or enabling SSL (when using applications that access the internet, such as an email client) encrypts the data passed back and forth between your computer and that web server and keep it away from prying eyes.

Many sites—including Facebook, Gmail, and others—will do it automatically, but keep an eye on the address bar and make sure the "s" in "https" is always there when you’re exchanging sensitive information. If it disappears, you should log out immediately. Other sites will default to HTTP connections, but support HTTPS if you manually type it in.

Note that if the sensitive browsing can wait—especially if it’s something very sensitive like banking or credit card info—you should just wait to do that sensitive browsing at home. There’s no reason to risk more than you have to.

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

If you access your email from a desktop client such as Outlook or Apple Mail, You’ll want to make sure that your accounts are SSL encrypted in their settings. If not, people could not only theoretically read your emails, but also get your usernames, passwords, or anything else they wanted. You’ll need to make sure your domain supports it, and sometimes the setup might require different settings or ports—it’s not just a matter of checking the "use SSL" box—so check your email account’s help page for more details. If it doesn’t support SSL, make sure you quit the application when you’re on a public network.

4. Consider Using a Virtual Private Network

Unfortunately, not all sites offer SSL encryption. Other search engines and email providers may still be vulnerable to people watching your activity, so if you use one of these sites frequently (or really just want the extra protection), you may want to try using a VPN, or virtual private network. These services let you route all your activity through a separate secure, private network, thus giving you the security of a private network even though you’re on a public one.

You have a lot of choices, and we’ve rounded up some of the best VPNs here—but if you don’t feel like doing the research, we recommend CyberGhost as a dead simple, free option. Install it on your computer, turn it on whenever you’re on a public network, and you’ll be much safer than without it.

5. Turn Wi-Fi Off When You Aren’t Using It

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

If you want to guarantee your security and you’re not actively using the internet, simply turn off your Wi-Fi. This is extremely easy in both Windows and OS X. In Windows, you can just right-click on the wireless icon in the taskbar to turn it off. On a Mac, just click the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar and select the turn off AirPort option. Again, this isn’t all that useful if you need the internet, but when you’re not actively using it, it’s not a bad idea to just turn it off for the time being. The longer you stay connected, the longer people have to notice you’re there and start snooping around.

How to Automate Your Public Wi-Fi Security Settings

Obviously, you don’t want to have to manually adjust all of these settings every single time you go back and forth between the coffee shop and your secure home network. Luckily, there are a few ways to automate the process so you automatically get extra protection when connected to a public Wi-Fi network.

On Windows

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

When you first connect to any given network on Windows, you’ll be asked whether you’re connecting to a network at your home, work, or if it’s public. Each of these choices will flip the switch on a preset list of settings. The public setting, naturally, will give you the most security. You can customize what each of the presets entails by opening your Control Panel and navigating to Network and Sharing Center > Advanced Sharing Settings. From there, you can turn network discovery, file sharing, public folder sharing, media streaming, and other options on or off for the different profiles.

That’s a good start, but if you want a bit more control, previously mentioned NetSetMan is a great program to customize your network profiles for different networks; you choose your IP address, DNS server, or even run scripts (opening the window for pretty much any action) every time you connect to one of your preset networks.

On OS X

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

OS X doesn’t have these options built-in like Windows, but an app like ControlPlane can do a fair amount of customization. With it, you can turn on your firewall, turn off sharing, connect to a VPN, and a whole lot more, all depending on the network you’ve connected to.

In Your Browser

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

The previously mentioned HTTPS Everywhere Firefox extension automatically chooses the secure HTTPS option for a bunch of popular web sites, including the New York Times, Twitter, Facebook, Google Search, and others, ensuring secure HTTPS connections to any supported web site, every time you visit. You can even add your own to their XML config file. Note that as a Firefox extension, this works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Consider a "Safety First" Approach

If you’re a real road warrior, you may find yourself adding so many profiles that automating your safe settings at every step along the way may seem like a lot of work. While most chains like Starbucks or McDonald’s should have the same names for each of their Wi-Fi networks (and thus your profiles will carry over), a better approach may be to make your more secure settings the default for your system, and create just one profile for your home network. Thus, by default, file sharing would be turned off, your firewall would be at its most secure state, and so on—then, when you return home to your protected network, you can have Airport Location or NetSetMan turn your less secure settings on.


This isn’t all-encompassing by any means, but should give you a good quick checklist of things you should do every time you connect to a public network. There are certainly a number of other things you could do (such as setting up a SOCKS proxy over SSH or installing these extensions), but these steps will take you a long way on the road to security when you’re browsing on those public hotspots. Of course, some of you already have your own public browsing routines, so be sure to share your safe networking tips in the comments.

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Public Wi-Fi networks—like those in coffee shops or hotels—are not nearly as safe as you think. Even if they have a password, you’re sharing a network with tons of other people, which means your data is at risk. Here’s how to stay safe when you’re out and about.

Just because most wireless routers have a firewall to protect you from the internet doesn’t mean you’re protected from others connected to the same network. It’s remarkably easy to steal someone’s username and password, or see what they’re doing just by being on the same network. Don’t take that chance. We’re going to show you which settings are the most important ones, as well as how to automatically change your settings to the appropriate level of security every time you connect to a public network.

Blast from the past is a weekly feature at Lifehacker in which we revive old, but still relevant, posts for your reading and hacking pleasure. This week, we’re reminding everyone of the importance of Wi-Fi security when you’re away from home.

The Settings

First, let’s start by talking about what settings and apps can keep you safe. Make sure these are enabled anytime you’re on public Wi-Fi, whether it’s password protected or not. If other people you don’t know are on the same network, you want to protect yourself.

1. Turn Off Sharing

When you’re at home, you may share files, printers, or even allow remote login from other computers on your network. When you’re on a public network, you’ll want to turn these things off, as anyone can access them—they don’t even need to be a hacker, and depending on your setup, some of that stuff probably isn’t even password protected. Here’s how to turn off sharing:

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

In Windows: Open your Control Panel, then browse to Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center, then click Choose Change Advanced Sharing Settings. Once here, you should definitely turn off file and printer sharing, and you may as well turn off network discovery and Public folder sharing. Some of this is done automatically by Windows if you specify the network as public (more on this later).

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

In OS X: Go to System Preferences > Sharing and make sure all the boxes are unchecked.

You’ll also want to turn off network discovery, which will be in the same place. This will prevent others from even seeing your machine on the network, meaning you’re less likely to be targeted. On Windows (as I mentioned), it’s just another check box under advanced sharing settings. On OS X, it will be called "stealth mode" and be under your firewall’s advanced settings (see below).

2. Enable Your Firewall

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Most OSes come with at least a basic firewall nowadays, and it’s a simple step to keeping unwanted local users from poking at your computer. You may already be using a firewall, but just in case, go into your security settings (in Windows under Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Firewall; and on a Mac under System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall) and make sure your firewall is turned on. You can also edit which applications are allowed access by clicking on "allow a program or feature" in Windows and "advanced" in OS X. Your firewall is not an end-all, be-all protector, but it’s always a good idea to make sure it’s turned on.

3. Use HTTPS and SSL Whenever Possible

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Regular web site connections over HTTP exchange lots of plain text over the wireless network you’re connected to, and someone with the right skills and bad intent can sniff out that traffic very easily. It’s not that big of a deal when the text is some search terms you entered at Lifehacker, but it is a big deal when it’s the password to your email account. Using HTTPS (for visiting web sites) or enabling SSL (when using applications that access the internet, such as an email client) encrypts the data passed back and forth between your computer and that web server and keep it away from prying eyes.

Many sites—including Facebook, Gmail, and others—will do it automatically, but keep an eye on the address bar and make sure the "s" in "https" is always there when you’re exchanging sensitive information. If it disappears, you should log out immediately. Other sites will default to HTTP connections, but support HTTPS if you manually type it in.

Note that if the sensitive browsing can wait—especially if it’s something very sensitive like banking or credit card info—you should just wait to do that sensitive browsing at home. There’s no reason to risk more than you have to.

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

If you access your email from a desktop client such as Outlook or Apple Mail, You’ll want to make sure that your accounts are SSL encrypted in their settings. If not, people could not only theoretically read your emails, but also get your usernames, passwords, or anything else they wanted. You’ll need to make sure your domain supports it, and sometimes the setup might require different settings or ports—it’s not just a matter of checking the "use SSL" box—so check your email account’s help page for more details. If it doesn’t support SSL, make sure you quit the application when you’re on a public network.

4. Consider Using a Virtual Private Network

Unfortunately, not all sites offer SSL encryption. Other search engines and email providers may still be vulnerable to people watching your activity, so if you use one of these sites frequently (or really just want the extra protection), you may want to try using a VPN, or virtual private network. These services let you route all your activity through a separate secure, private network, thus giving you the security of a private network even though you’re on a public one.

You have a lot of choices, and we’ve rounded up some of the best VPNs here—but if you don’t feel like doing the research, we recommend CyberGhost as a dead simple, free option. Install it on your computer, turn it on whenever you’re on a public network, and you’ll be much safer than without it.

5. Turn Wi-Fi Off When You Aren’t Using It

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

If you want to guarantee your security and you’re not actively using the internet, simply turn off your Wi-Fi. This is extremely easy in both Windows and OS X. In Windows, you can just right-click on the wireless icon in the taskbar to turn it off. On a Mac, just click the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar and select the turn off AirPort option. Again, this isn’t all that useful if you need the internet, but when you’re not actively using it, it’s not a bad idea to just turn it off for the time being. The longer you stay connected, the longer people have to notice you’re there and start snooping around.

How to Automate Your Public Wi-Fi Security Settings

Obviously, you don’t want to have to manually adjust all of these settings every single time you go back and forth between the coffee shop and your secure home network. Luckily, there are a few ways to automate the process so you automatically get extra protection when connected to a public Wi-Fi network.

On Windows

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

When you first connect to any given network on Windows, you’ll be asked whether you’re connecting to a network at your home, work, or if it’s public. Each of these choices will flip the switch on a preset list of settings. The public setting, naturally, will give you the most security. You can customize what each of the presets entails by opening your Control Panel and navigating to Network and Sharing Center > Advanced Sharing Settings. From there, you can turn network discovery, file sharing, public folder sharing, media streaming, and other options on or off for the different profiles.

That’s a good start, but if you want a bit more control, previously mentioned NetSetMan is a great program to customize your network profiles for different networks; you choose your IP address, DNS server, or even run scripts (opening the window for pretty much any action) every time you connect to one of your preset networks.

On OS X

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

OS X doesn’t have these options built-in like Windows, but an app like ControlPlane can do a fair amount of customization. With it, you can turn on your firewall, turn off sharing, connect to a VPN, and a whole lot more, all depending on the network you’ve connected to.

In Your Browser

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

The previously mentioned HTTPS Everywhere Firefox extension automatically chooses the secure HTTPS option for a bunch of popular web sites, including the New York Times, Twitter, Facebook, Google Search, and others, ensuring secure HTTPS connections to any supported web site, every time you visit. You can even add your own to their XML config file. Note that as a Firefox extension, this works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Consider a "Safety First" Approach

If you’re a real road warrior, you may find yourself adding so many profiles that automating your safe settings at every step along the way may seem like a lot of work. While most chains like Starbucks or McDonald’s should have the same names for each of their Wi-Fi networks (and thus your profiles will carry over), a better approach may be to make your more secure settings the default for your system, and create just one profile for your home network. Thus, by default, file sharing would be turned off, your firewall would be at its most secure state, and so on—then, when you return home to your protected network, you can have Airport Location or NetSetMan turn your less secure settings on.


This isn’t all-encompassing by any means, but should give you a good quick checklist of things you should do every time you connect to a public network. There are certainly a number of other things you could do (such as setting up a SOCKS proxy over SSH or installing these extensions), but these steps will take you a long way on the road to security when you’re browsing on those public hotspots. Of course, some of you already have your own public browsing routines, so be sure to share your safe networking tips in the comments.

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Public Wi-Fi networks—like those in coffee shops or hotels—are not nearly as safe as you think. Even if they have a password, you’re sharing a network with tons of other people, which means your data is at risk. Here’s how to stay safe when you’re out and about.

Just because most wireless routers have a firewall to protect you from the internet doesn’t mean you’re protected from others connected to the same network. It’s remarkably easy to steal someone’s username and password, or see what they’re doing just by being on the same network. Don’t take that chance. We’re going to show you which settings are the most important ones, as well as how to automatically change your settings to the appropriate level of security every time you connect to a public network.

Blast from the past is a weekly feature at Lifehacker in which we revive old, but still relevant, posts for your reading and hacking pleasure. This week, we’re reminding everyone of the importance of Wi-Fi security when you’re away from home.

The Settings

First, let’s start by talking about what settings and apps can keep you safe. Make sure these are enabled anytime you’re on public Wi-Fi, whether it’s password protected or not. If other people you don’t know are on the same network, you want to protect yourself.

1. Turn Off Sharing

When you’re at home, you may share files, printers, or even allow remote login from other computers on your network. When you’re on a public network, you’ll want to turn these things off, as anyone can access them—they don’t even need to be a hacker, and depending on your setup, some of that stuff probably isn’t even password protected. Here’s how to turn off sharing:

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

In Windows: Open your Control Panel, then browse to Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center, then click Choose Change Advanced Sharing Settings. Once here, you should definitely turn off file and printer sharing, and you may as well turn off network discovery and Public folder sharing. Some of this is done automatically by Windows if you specify the network as public (more on this later).

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

In OS X: Go to System Preferences > Sharing and make sure all the boxes are unchecked.

You’ll also want to turn off network discovery, which will be in the same place. This will prevent others from even seeing your machine on the network, meaning you’re less likely to be targeted. On Windows (as I mentioned), it’s just another check box under advanced sharing settings. On OS X, it will be called "stealth mode" and be under your firewall’s advanced settings (see below).

2. Enable Your Firewall

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Most OSes come with at least a basic firewall nowadays, and it’s a simple step to keeping unwanted local users from poking at your computer. You may already be using a firewall, but just in case, go into your security settings (in Windows under Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Firewall; and on a Mac under System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall) and make sure your firewall is turned on. You can also edit which applications are allowed access by clicking on "allow a program or feature" in Windows and "advanced" in OS X. Your firewall is not an end-all, be-all protector, but it’s always a good idea to make sure it’s turned on.

3. Use HTTPS and SSL Whenever Possible

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Regular web site connections over HTTP exchange lots of plain text over the wireless network you’re connected to, and someone with the right skills and bad intent can sniff out that traffic very easily. It’s not that big of a deal when the text is some search terms you entered at Lifehacker, but it is a big deal when it’s the password to your email account. Using HTTPS (for visiting web sites) or enabling SSL (when using applications that access the internet, such as an email client) encrypts the data passed back and forth between your computer and that web server and keep it away from prying eyes.

Many sites—including Facebook, Gmail, and others—will do it automatically, but keep an eye on the address bar and make sure the "s" in "https" is always there when you’re exchanging sensitive information. If it disappears, you should log out immediately. Other sites will default to HTTP connections, but support HTTPS if you manually type it in.

Note that if the sensitive browsing can wait—especially if it’s something very sensitive like banking or credit card info—you should just wait to do that sensitive browsing at home. There’s no reason to risk more than you have to.

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

If you access your email from a desktop client such as Outlook or Apple Mail, You’ll want to make sure that your accounts are SSL encrypted in their settings. If not, people could not only theoretically read your emails, but also get your usernames, passwords, or anything else they wanted. You’ll need to make sure your domain supports it, and sometimes the setup might require different settings or ports—it’s not just a matter of checking the "use SSL" box—so check your email account’s help page for more details. If it doesn’t support SSL, make sure you quit the application when you’re on a public network.

4. Consider Using a Virtual Private Network

Unfortunately, not all sites offer SSL encryption. Other search engines and email providers may still be vulnerable to people watching your activity, so if you use one of these sites frequently (or really just want the extra protection), you may want to try using a VPN, or virtual private network. These services let you route all your activity through a separate secure, private network, thus giving you the security of a private network even though you’re on a public one.

You have a lot of choices, and we’ve rounded up some of the best VPNs here—but if you don’t feel like doing the research, we recommend CyberGhost as a dead simple, free option. Install it on your computer, turn it on whenever you’re on a public network, and you’ll be much safer than without it.

5. Turn Wi-Fi Off When You Aren’t Using It

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

If you want to guarantee your security and you’re not actively using the internet, simply turn off your Wi-Fi. This is extremely easy in both Windows and OS X. In Windows, you can just right-click on the wireless icon in the taskbar to turn it off. On a Mac, just click the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar and select the turn off AirPort option. Again, this isn’t all that useful if you need the internet, but when you’re not actively using it, it’s not a bad idea to just turn it off for the time being. The longer you stay connected, the longer people have to notice you’re there and start snooping around.

How to Automate Your Public Wi-Fi Security Settings

Obviously, you don’t want to have to manually adjust all of these settings every single time you go back and forth between the coffee shop and your secure home network. Luckily, there are a few ways to automate the process so you automatically get extra protection when connected to a public Wi-Fi network.

On Windows

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

When you first connect to any given network on Windows, you’ll be asked whether you’re connecting to a network at your home, work, or if it’s public. Each of these choices will flip the switch on a preset list of settings. The public setting, naturally, will give you the most security. You can customize what each of the presets entails by opening your Control Panel and navigating to Network and Sharing Center > Advanced Sharing Settings. From there, you can turn network discovery, file sharing, public folder sharing, media streaming, and other options on or off for the different profiles.

That’s a good start, but if you want a bit more control, previously mentioned NetSetMan is a great program to customize your network profiles for different networks; you choose your IP address, DNS server, or even run scripts (opening the window for pretty much any action) every time you connect to one of your preset networks.

On OS X

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

OS X doesn’t have these options built-in like Windows, but an app like ControlPlane can do a fair amount of customization. With it, you can turn on your firewall, turn off sharing, connect to a VPN, and a whole lot more, all depending on the network you’ve connected to.

In Your Browser

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

The previously mentioned HTTPS Everywhere Firefox extension automatically chooses the secure HTTPS option for a bunch of popular web sites, including the New York Times, Twitter, Facebook, Google Search, and others, ensuring secure HTTPS connections to any supported web site, every time you visit. You can even add your own to their XML config file. Note that as a Firefox extension, this works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Consider a "Safety First" Approach

If you’re a real road warrior, you may find yourself adding so many profiles that automating your safe settings at every step along the way may seem like a lot of work. While most chains like Starbucks or McDonald’s should have the same names for each of their Wi-Fi networks (and thus your profiles will carry over), a better approach may be to make your more secure settings the default for your system, and create just one profile for your home network. Thus, by default, file sharing would be turned off, your firewall would be at its most secure state, and so on—then, when you return home to your protected network, you can have Airport Location or NetSetMan turn your less secure settings on.


This isn’t all-encompassing by any means, but should give you a good quick checklist of things you should do every time you connect to a public network. There are certainly a number of other things you could do (such as setting up a SOCKS proxy over SSH or installing these extensions), but these steps will take you a long way on the road to security when you’re browsing on those public hotspots. Of course, some of you already have your own public browsing routines, so be sure to share your safe networking tips in the comments.

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Public Wi-Fi networks—like those in coffee shops or hotels—are not nearly as safe as you think. Even if they have a password, you’re sharing a network with tons of other people, which means your data is at risk. Here’s how to stay safe when you’re out and about.

Just because most wireless routers have a firewall to protect you from the internet doesn’t mean you’re protected from others connected to the same network. It’s remarkably easy to steal someone’s username and password, or see what they’re doing just by being on the same network. Don’t take that chance. We’re going to show you which settings are the most important ones, as well as how to automatically change your settings to the appropriate level of security every time you connect to a public network.

Blast from the past is a weekly feature at Lifehacker in which we revive old, but still relevant, posts for your reading and hacking pleasure. This week, we’re reminding everyone of the importance of Wi-Fi security when you’re away from home.

The Settings

First, let’s start by talking about what settings and apps can keep you safe. Make sure these are enabled anytime you’re on public Wi-Fi, whether it’s password protected or not. If other people you don’t know are on the same network, you want to protect yourself.

1. Turn Off Sharing

When you’re at home, you may share files, printers, or even allow remote login from other computers on your network. When you’re on a public network, you’ll want to turn these things off, as anyone can access them—they don’t even need to be a hacker, and depending on your setup, some of that stuff probably isn’t even password protected. Here’s how to turn off sharing:

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

In Windows: Open your Control Panel, then browse to Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center, then click Choose Change Advanced Sharing Settings. Once here, you should definitely turn off file and printer sharing, and you may as well turn off network discovery and Public folder sharing. Some of this is done automatically by Windows if you specify the network as public (more on this later).

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

In OS X: Go to System Preferences > Sharing and make sure all the boxes are unchecked.

You’ll also want to turn off network discovery, which will be in the same place. This will prevent others from even seeing your machine on the network, meaning you’re less likely to be targeted. On Windows (as I mentioned), it’s just another check box under advanced sharing settings. On OS X, it will be called "stealth mode" and be under your firewall’s advanced settings (see below).

2. Enable Your Firewall

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Most OSes come with at least a basic firewall nowadays, and it’s a simple step to keeping unwanted local users from poking at your computer. You may already be using a firewall, but just in case, go into your security settings (in Windows under Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Firewall; and on a Mac under System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall) and make sure your firewall is turned on. You can also edit which applications are allowed access by clicking on "allow a program or feature" in Windows and "advanced" in OS X. Your firewall is not an end-all, be-all protector, but it’s always a good idea to make sure it’s turned on.

3. Use HTTPS and SSL Whenever Possible

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Regular web site connections over HTTP exchange lots of plain text over the wireless network you’re connected to, and someone with the right skills and bad intent can sniff out that traffic very easily. It’s not that big of a deal when the text is some search terms you entered at Lifehacker, but it is a big deal when it’s the password to your email account. Using HTTPS (for visiting web sites) or enabling SSL (when using applications that access the internet, such as an email client) encrypts the data passed back and forth between your computer and that web server and keep it away from prying eyes.

Many sites—including Facebook, Gmail, and others—will do it automatically, but keep an eye on the address bar and make sure the "s" in "https" is always there when you’re exchanging sensitive information. If it disappears, you should log out immediately. Other sites will default to HTTP connections, but support HTTPS if you manually type it in.

Note that if the sensitive browsing can wait—especially if it’s something very sensitive like banking or credit card info—you should just wait to do that sensitive browsing at home. There’s no reason to risk more than you have to.

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

If you access your email from a desktop client such as Outlook or Apple Mail, You’ll want to make sure that your accounts are SSL encrypted in their settings. If not, people could not only theoretically read your emails, but also get your usernames, passwords, or anything else they wanted. You’ll need to make sure your domain supports it, and sometimes the setup might require different settings or ports—it’s not just a matter of checking the "use SSL" box—so check your email account’s help page for more details. If it doesn’t support SSL, make sure you quit the application when you’re on a public network.

4. Consider Using a Virtual Private Network

Unfortunately, not all sites offer SSL encryption. Other search engines and email providers may still be vulnerable to people watching your activity, so if you use one of these sites frequently (or really just want the extra protection), you may want to try using a VPN, or virtual private network. These services let you route all your activity through a separate secure, private network, thus giving you the security of a private network even though you’re on a public one.

You have a lot of choices, and we’ve rounded up some of the best VPNs here—but if you don’t feel like doing the research, we recommend CyberGhost as a dead simple, free option. Install it on your computer, turn it on whenever you’re on a public network, and you’ll be much safer than without it.

5. Turn Wi-Fi Off When You Aren’t Using It

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

If you want to guarantee your security and you’re not actively using the internet, simply turn off your Wi-Fi. This is extremely easy in both Windows and OS X. In Windows, you can just right-click on the wireless icon in the taskbar to turn it off. On a Mac, just click the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar and select the turn off AirPort option. Again, this isn’t all that useful if you need the internet, but when you’re not actively using it, it’s not a bad idea to just turn it off for the time being. The longer you stay connected, the longer people have to notice you’re there and start snooping around.

How to Automate Your Public Wi-Fi Security Settings

Obviously, you don’t want to have to manually adjust all of these settings every single time you go back and forth between the coffee shop and your secure home network. Luckily, there are a few ways to automate the process so you automatically get extra protection when connected to a public Wi-Fi network.

On Windows

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

When you first connect to any given network on Windows, you’ll be asked whether you’re connecting to a network at your home, work, or if it’s public. Each of these choices will flip the switch on a preset list of settings. The public setting, naturally, will give you the most security. You can customize what each of the presets entails by opening your Control Panel and navigating to Network and Sharing Center > Advanced Sharing Settings. From there, you can turn network discovery, file sharing, public folder sharing, media streaming, and other options on or off for the different profiles.

That’s a good start, but if you want a bit more control, previously mentioned NetSetMan is a great program to customize your network profiles for different networks; you choose your IP address, DNS server, or even run scripts (opening the window for pretty much any action) every time you connect to one of your preset networks.

On OS X

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

OS X doesn’t have these options built-in like Windows, but an app like ControlPlane can do a fair amount of customization. With it, you can turn on your firewall, turn off sharing, connect to a VPN, and a whole lot more, all depending on the network you’ve connected to.

In Your Browser

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

The previously mentioned HTTPS Everywhere Firefox extension automatically chooses the secure HTTPS option for a bunch of popular web sites, including the New York Times, Twitter, Facebook, Google Search, and others, ensuring secure HTTPS connections to any supported web site, every time you visit. You can even add your own to their XML config file. Note that as a Firefox extension, this works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Consider a "Safety First" Approach

If you’re a real road warrior, you may find yourself adding so many profiles that automating your safe settings at every step along the way may seem like a lot of work. While most chains like Starbucks or McDonald’s should have the same names for each of their Wi-Fi networks (and thus your profiles will carry over), a better approach may be to make your more secure settings the default for your system, and create just one profile for your home network. Thus, by default, file sharing would be turned off, your firewall would be at its most secure state, and so on—then, when you return home to your protected network, you can have Airport Location or NetSetMan turn your less secure settings on.


This isn’t all-encompassing by any means, but should give you a good quick checklist of things you should do every time you connect to a public network. There are certainly a number of other things you could do (such as setting up a SOCKS proxy over SSH or installing these extensions), but these steps will take you a long way on the road to security when you’re browsing on those public hotspots. Of course, some of you already have your own public browsing routines, so be sure to share your safe networking tips in the comments.

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Public Wi-Fi networks—like those in coffee shops or hotels—are not nearly as safe as you think. Even if they have a password, you’re sharing a network with tons of other people, which means your data is at risk. Here’s how to stay safe when you’re out and about.

Just because most wireless routers have a firewall to protect you from the internet doesn’t mean you’re protected from others connected to the same network. It’s remarkably easy to steal someone’s username and password, or see what they’re doing just by being on the same network. Don’t take that chance. We’re going to show you which settings are the most important ones, as well as how to automatically change your settings to the appropriate level of security every time you connect to a public network.

Blast from the past is a weekly feature at Lifehacker in which we revive old, but still relevant, posts for your reading and hacking pleasure. This week, we’re reminding everyone of the importance of Wi-Fi security when you’re away from home.

The Settings

First, let’s start by talking about what settings and apps can keep you safe. Make sure these are enabled anytime you’re on public Wi-Fi, whether it’s password protected or not. If other people you don’t know are on the same network, you want to protect yourself.

1. Turn Off Sharing

When you’re at home, you may share files, printers, or even allow remote login from other computers on your network. When you’re on a public network, you’ll want to turn these things off, as anyone can access them—they don’t even need to be a hacker, and depending on your setup, some of that stuff probably isn’t even password protected. Here’s how to turn off sharing:

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

In Windows: Open your Control Panel, then browse to Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center, then click Choose Change Advanced Sharing Settings. Once here, you should definitely turn off file and printer sharing, and you may as well turn off network discovery and Public folder sharing. Some of this is done automatically by Windows if you specify the network as public (more on this later).

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

In OS X: Go to System Preferences > Sharing and make sure all the boxes are unchecked.

You’ll also want to turn off network discovery, which will be in the same place. This will prevent others from even seeing your machine on the network, meaning you’re less likely to be targeted. On Windows (as I mentioned), it’s just another check box under advanced sharing settings. On OS X, it will be called "stealth mode" and be under your firewall’s advanced settings (see below).

2. Enable Your Firewall

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Most OSes come with at least a basic firewall nowadays, and it’s a simple step to keeping unwanted local users from poking at your computer. You may already be using a firewall, but just in case, go into your security settings (in Windows under Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Firewall; and on a Mac under System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall) and make sure your firewall is turned on. You can also edit which applications are allowed access by clicking on "allow a program or feature" in Windows and "advanced" in OS X. Your firewall is not an end-all, be-all protector, but it’s always a good idea to make sure it’s turned on.

3. Use HTTPS and SSL Whenever Possible

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Regular web site connections over HTTP exchange lots of plain text over the wireless network you’re connected to, and someone with the right skills and bad intent can sniff out that traffic very easily. It’s not that big of a deal when the text is some search terms you entered at Lifehacker, but it is a big deal when it’s the password to your email account. Using HTTPS (for visiting web sites) or enabling SSL (when using applications that access the internet, such as an email client) encrypts the data passed back and forth between your computer and that web server and keep it away from prying eyes.

Many sites—including Facebook, Gmail, and others—will do it automatically, but keep an eye on the address bar and make sure the "s" in "https" is always there when you’re exchanging sensitive information. If it disappears, you should log out immediately. Other sites will default to HTTP connections, but support HTTPS if you manually type it in.

Note that if the sensitive browsing can wait—especially if it’s something very sensitive like banking or credit card info—you should just wait to do that sensitive browsing at home. There’s no reason to risk more than you have to.

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

If you access your email from a desktop client such as Outlook or Apple Mail, You’ll want to make sure that your accounts are SSL encrypted in their settings. If not, people could not only theoretically read your emails, but also get your usernames, passwords, or anything else they wanted. You’ll need to make sure your domain supports it, and sometimes the setup might require different settings or ports—it’s not just a matter of checking the "use SSL" box—so check your email account’s help page for more details. If it doesn’t support SSL, make sure you quit the application when you’re on a public network.

4. Consider Using a Virtual Private Network

Unfortunately, not all sites offer SSL encryption. Other search engines and email providers may still be vulnerable to people watching your activity, so if you use one of these sites frequently (or really just want the extra protection), you may want to try using a VPN, or virtual private network. These services let you route all your activity through a separate secure, private network, thus giving you the security of a private network even though you’re on a public one.

You have a lot of choices, and we’ve rounded up some of the best VPNs here—but if you don’t feel like doing the research, we recommend CyberGhost as a dead simple, free option. Install it on your computer, turn it on whenever you’re on a public network, and you’ll be much safer than without it.

5. Turn Wi-Fi Off When You Aren’t Using It

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

If you want to guarantee your security and you’re not actively using the internet, simply turn off your Wi-Fi. This is extremely easy in both Windows and OS X. In Windows, you can just right-click on the wireless icon in the taskbar to turn it off. On a Mac, just click the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar and select the turn off AirPort option. Again, this isn’t all that useful if you need the internet, but when you’re not actively using it, it’s not a bad idea to just turn it off for the time being. The longer you stay connected, the longer people have to notice you’re there and start snooping around.

How to Automate Your Public Wi-Fi Security Settings

Obviously, you don’t want to have to manually adjust all of these settings every single time you go back and forth between the coffee shop and your secure home network. Luckily, there are a few ways to automate the process so you automatically get extra protection when connected to a public Wi-Fi network.

On Windows

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

When you first connect to any given network on Windows, you’ll be asked whether you’re connecting to a network at your home, work, or if it’s public. Each of these choices will flip the switch on a preset list of settings. The public setting, naturally, will give you the most security. You can customize what each of the presets entails by opening your Control Panel and navigating to Network and Sharing Center > Advanced Sharing Settings. From there, you can turn network discovery, file sharing, public folder sharing, media streaming, and other options on or off for the different profiles.

That’s a good start, but if you want a bit more control, previously mentioned NetSetMan is a great program to customize your network profiles for different networks; you choose your IP address, DNS server, or even run scripts (opening the window for pretty much any action) every time you connect to one of your preset networks.

On OS X

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

OS X doesn’t have these options built-in like Windows, but an app like ControlPlane can do a fair amount of customization. With it, you can turn on your firewall, turn off sharing, connect to a VPN, and a whole lot more, all depending on the network you’ve connected to.

In Your Browser

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

The previously mentioned HTTPS Everywhere Firefox extension automatically chooses the secure HTTPS option for a bunch of popular web sites, including the New York Times, Twitter, Facebook, Google Search, and others, ensuring secure HTTPS connections to any supported web site, every time you visit. You can even add your own to their XML config file. Note that as a Firefox extension, this works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Consider a "Safety First" Approach

If you’re a real road warrior, you may find yourself adding so many profiles that automating your safe settings at every step along the way may seem like a lot of work. While most chains like Starbucks or McDonald’s should have the same names for each of their Wi-Fi networks (and thus your profiles will carry over), a better approach may be to make your more secure settings the default for your system, and create just one profile for your home network. Thus, by default, file sharing would be turned off, your firewall would be at its most secure state, and so on—then, when you return home to your protected network, you can have Airport Location or NetSetMan turn your less secure settings on.


This isn’t all-encompassing by any means, but should give you a good quick checklist of things you should do every time you connect to a public network. There are certainly a number of other things you could do (such as setting up a SOCKS proxy over SSH or installing these extensions), but these steps will take you a long way on the road to security when you’re browsing on those public hotspots. Of course, some of you already have your own public browsing routines, so be sure to share your safe networking tips in the comments.

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Public Wi-Fi networks—like those in coffee shops or hotels—are not nearly as safe as you think. Even if they have a password, you’re sharing a network with tons of other people, which means your data is at risk. Here’s how to stay safe when you’re out and about.

Just because most wireless routers have a firewall to protect you from the internet doesn’t mean you’re protected from others connected to the same network. It’s remarkably easy to steal someone’s username and password, or see what they’re doing just by being on the same network. Don’t take that chance. We’re going to show you which settings are the most important ones, as well as how to automatically change your settings to the appropriate level of security every time you connect to a public network.

Blast from the past is a weekly feature at Lifehacker in which we revive old, but still relevant, posts for your reading and hacking pleasure. This week, we’re reminding everyone of the importance of Wi-Fi security when you’re away from home.

The Settings

First, let’s start by talking about what settings and apps can keep you safe. Make sure these are enabled anytime you’re on public Wi-Fi, whether it’s password protected or not. If other people you don’t know are on the same network, you want to protect yourself.

1. Turn Off Sharing

When you’re at home, you may share files, printers, or even allow remote login from other computers on your network. When you’re on a public network, you’ll want to turn these things off, as anyone can access them—they don’t even need to be a hacker, and depending on your setup, some of that stuff probably isn’t even password protected. Here’s how to turn off sharing:

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

In Windows: Open your Control Panel, then browse to Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center, then click Choose Change Advanced Sharing Settings. Once here, you should definitely turn off file and printer sharing, and you may as well turn off network discovery and Public folder sharing. Some of this is done automatically by Windows if you specify the network as public (more on this later).

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

In OS X: Go to System Preferences > Sharing and make sure all the boxes are unchecked.

You’ll also want to turn off network discovery, which will be in the same place. This will prevent others from even seeing your machine on the network, meaning you’re less likely to be targeted. On Windows (as I mentioned), it’s just another check box under advanced sharing settings. On OS X, it will be called "stealth mode" and be under your firewall’s advanced settings (see below).

2. Enable Your Firewall

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Most OSes come with at least a basic firewall nowadays, and it’s a simple step to keeping unwanted local users from poking at your computer. You may already be using a firewall, but just in case, go into your security settings (in Windows under Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Firewall; and on a Mac under System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall) and make sure your firewall is turned on. You can also edit which applications are allowed access by clicking on "allow a program or feature" in Windows and "advanced" in OS X. Your firewall is not an end-all, be-all protector, but it’s always a good idea to make sure it’s turned on.

3. Use HTTPS and SSL Whenever Possible

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Regular web site connections over HTTP exchange lots of plain text over the wireless network you’re connected to, and someone with the right skills and bad intent can sniff out that traffic very easily. It’s not that big of a deal when the text is some search terms you entered at Lifehacker, but it is a big deal when it’s the password to your email account. Using HTTPS (for visiting web sites) or enabling SSL (when using applications that access the internet, such as an email client) encrypts the data passed back and forth between your computer and that web server and keep it away from prying eyes.

Many sites—including Facebook, Gmail, and others—will do it automatically, but keep an eye on the address bar and make sure the "s" in "https" is always there when you’re exchanging sensitive information. If it disappears, you should log out immediately. Other sites will default to HTTP connections, but support HTTPS if you manually type it in.

Note that if the sensitive browsing can wait—especially if it’s something very sensitive like banking or credit card info—you should just wait to do that sensitive browsing at home. There’s no reason to risk more than you have to.

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

If you access your email from a desktop client such as Outlook or Apple Mail, You’ll want to make sure that your accounts are SSL encrypted in their settings. If not, people could not only theoretically read your emails, but also get your usernames, passwords, or anything else they wanted. You’ll need to make sure your domain supports it, and sometimes the setup might require different settings or ports—it’s not just a matter of checking the "use SSL" box—so check your email account’s help page for more details. If it doesn’t support SSL, make sure you quit the application when you’re on a public network.

4. Consider Using a Virtual Private Network

Unfortunately, not all sites offer SSL encryption. Other search engines and email providers may still be vulnerable to people watching your activity, so if you use one of these sites frequently (or really just want the extra protection), you may want to try using a VPN, or virtual private network. These services let you route all your activity through a separate secure, private network, thus giving you the security of a private network even though you’re on a public one.

You have a lot of choices, and we’ve rounded up some of the best VPNs here—but if you don’t feel like doing the research, we recommend CyberGhost as a dead simple, free option. Install it on your computer, turn it on whenever you’re on a public network, and you’ll be much safer than without it.

5. Turn Wi-Fi Off When You Aren’t Using It

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

If you want to guarantee your security and you’re not actively using the internet, simply turn off your Wi-Fi. This is extremely easy in both Windows and OS X. In Windows, you can just right-click on the wireless icon in the taskbar to turn it off. On a Mac, just click the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar and select the turn off AirPort option. Again, this isn’t all that useful if you need the internet, but when you’re not actively using it, it’s not a bad idea to just turn it off for the time being. The longer you stay connected, the longer people have to notice you’re there and start snooping around.

How to Automate Your Public Wi-Fi Security Settings

Obviously, you don’t want to have to manually adjust all of these settings every single time you go back and forth between the coffee shop and your secure home network. Luckily, there are a few ways to automate the process so you automatically get extra protection when connected to a public Wi-Fi network.

On Windows

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

When you first connect to any given network on Windows, you’ll be asked whether you’re connecting to a network at your home, work, or if it’s public. Each of these choices will flip the switch on a preset list of settings. The public setting, naturally, will give you the most security. You can customize what each of the presets entails by opening your Control Panel and navigating to Network and Sharing Center > Advanced Sharing Settings. From there, you can turn network discovery, file sharing, public folder sharing, media streaming, and other options on or off for the different profiles.

That’s a good start, but if you want a bit more control, previously mentioned NetSetMan is a great program to customize your network profiles for different networks; you choose your IP address, DNS server, or even run scripts (opening the window for pretty much any action) every time you connect to one of your preset networks.

On OS X

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

OS X doesn’t have these options built-in like Windows, but an app like ControlPlane can do a fair amount of customization. With it, you can turn on your firewall, turn off sharing, connect to a VPN, and a whole lot more, all depending on the network you’ve connected to.

In Your Browser

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

The previously mentioned HTTPS Everywhere Firefox extension automatically chooses the secure HTTPS option for a bunch of popular web sites, including the New York Times, Twitter, Facebook, Google Search, and others, ensuring secure HTTPS connections to any supported web site, every time you visit. You can even add your own to their XML config file. Note that as a Firefox extension, this works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Consider a "Safety First" Approach

If you’re a real road warrior, you may find yourself adding so many profiles that automating your safe settings at every step along the way may seem like a lot of work. While most chains like Starbucks or McDonald’s should have the same names for each of their Wi-Fi networks (and thus your profiles will carry over), a better approach may be to make your more secure settings the default for your system, and create just one profile for your home network. Thus, by default, file sharing would be turned off, your firewall would be at its most secure state, and so on—then, when you return home to your protected network, you can have Airport Location or NetSetMan turn your less secure settings on.


This isn’t all-encompassing by any means, but should give you a good quick checklist of things you should do every time you connect to a public network. There are certainly a number of other things you could do (such as setting up a SOCKS proxy over SSH or installing these extensions), but these steps will take you a long way on the road to security when you’re browsing on those public hotspots. Of course, some of you already have your own public browsing routines, so be sure to share your safe networking tips in the comments.