How To Keep Your Mac Secure Even If You Use Public Wi-Fi

Taking a moment to bolster up your Mac security is always a smart move. It becomes absolutely essential if you regularly access public networks, be it in your campus or your favorite cafe. 

The internet is vast and can sometimes be unsavory. There are plenty of hackers and malicious bots out there trying to steal your information. But never fear! We are here to give you a few easy tips to make sure your MacOS remains impenetrable. 

Public Wi-Fi Threats

Before moving on to the solutions, you should know what kind of security issues come from using public wi-fi. Here are some of the risks.

Unencrypted Networks

Encryption ensures that the information passed between your device and the router stays secure by using a code. However, most routers have encryption turned off as a default factory setting, and unless an IT professional has set up the public network, it might be unencrypted and vulnerable.

Malware Distribution

If you have a software vulnerability, it might get targeted while on public wi-fi. Hackers often try to exploit these breaches by slipping in malware designed for that specific vulnerability. 

Man-in-the-Middle attacks

Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks are one of the most common threats that plague public networks. When you connect to the internet, data is sent from your device to the website. Hackers use security vulnerabilities to step in between and alter the information as it passes through. 

Packet Sniffing

When you log into an unencrypted wi-fi network, hackers can potentially intercept and read any information, including your login credentials. This digital eavesdropping is called packet sniffing.

Malicious Hotspots 

You might log in to a wi-fi with a  familiar name, only to find out later that it was a malicious hotspot mimicking another network. Your software might not always spot the difference if both of these networks are named the same.

How to Protect Your Mac?

The security risks of public wi-fi are substantial. But that does not mean you have to swear off public networks altogether. Here are a few steps to ensure you can freely roam around the internet without worry.

Use a VPN

Using a VPN can solve most of your security issues. VPN creates an encrypted tunnel connecting your Mac to an off-site VPN host or provider.  A good VPN will ensure that all information between your computer and the internet is safe even when you log in to a public WiFi.

There are plenty of VPN providers to choose from. But be aware of its encryption capabilities before you choose. Most ‘Free VPNs’ are unreliable and tend to inject advertisements on top of web pages you may visit. A trusted VPN provider like MacKeeper will hide what you browse and from where. You can read reviews on MacUpdate about this tool.

If you do not prefer VPN then there are still a few steps you can take to minimize the risks.

  • Always make sure that the website you visit starts with ‘https://’.  This means that the website is taking measures to secure the transfer of data between your Mac and the website through some form of encryption.
  • Be sure of the network you are logging into. There are plenty of free-to-use wi-fi hotspots trying to lure unsuspecting users into giving up their information. Avoid connecting to unknown networks.
  • Avoid sensitive sites while on public networks. Even with https:// encryptions it is best not to log in to social media sites or purchasing sites where you have to input your card details. Wait till you have access to your secure private wifi before you log in to such sites. 

Firewall

The default Mac firewall can be a bit annoying with its constant notifications for permissions. But it is very useful when you are logging into a public network. But you need to configure it properly. 

You have to go to System Preferences and select the Security and Privacy icon. You can alternatively search for ‘firewall’ using the search box in the System Preferences window. Once you find the firewall settings turn it on.  

If your firewall is locked then you have to unlock it by entering your admin password after you click the lock icon in the lower-left corner of the window. After turning it on click the Firewall Options and select “Block all incoming connections” from the drop-down menu. 

This will limit certain functions like file sharing but it will also reduce the threats of an outside attack while on public WiFi. You switch the firewall off when you are on a private network.  

You can also opt for other trusted Mac firewall providers. Usually, these are more elaborate in design and offer a range of functions. Security software like MacKeeper features ID theft guard and ad blockers along with encryption. 

Encrypt Email Passwords

Some of the mail service providers do not by-default encrypt your passwords. This means that anyone intercepting your information can view your passwords as plain text. Make sure that your email client is configured to use SSL while connecting to the mail server. You can with your email provider for the configuration procedure. If your email client does not provide SSL, then do not access it while on a public wi-fi.

Better DNS

When you search for any website, your Mac contacts a Domain Name System (DNS) to find that website. The DNS server connects your Mac to the IP address that hosts the webpage you are looking for. This process only takes a fraction of a second. 

You should configure your Mac to connect a reliable and fast DNS server that filters out malware, botnets and other malicious websites that attempt to infect your Mac. There are plenty of options when choosing a DNS service. The setup instructions are specific to the service providers.

Bottom Line

Public WiFi comes with its own risks. With just the basic protection enabled, try to avoid using sensitive information like credit card details while logged on to a public network. And always log out when you are not using the internet.  But if you follow these tips and get a trusted internet security provider then public wifi can be just as safe as any network.

About author:

Naomi Stone (<a href=”https://twitter.com/Naomi99Stone”>@Naomi99Stone</a>) is a cybersecurity enthusiast and Mac aficionado. She’s passionate about covering topics like Mac cybersecurity, Mac tips & hacks, Mac’s how-to guides. She is a contributor to Cyber Experts and Cybers Guards.