How many times have you settled into your favorite hotel for a weekly stay and connected to the free Wi-Fi hotspots that fancy hotel offers. But wait, have you ever thought about how you effortlessly compromised your entire data which is now at a risk of exploitation from hackers and spyware. Yeah, it can be harmless in some cases, but in extreme cases, hackers may try to harvest your credentials.
So what can you do to protect yourself? Well, the most obvious solution is using your own connection such as the 3G/4G hotspot your iPhone offers. But if that isn’t possible for you then you can follow the following steps to ensure the safety of your data.
1: Disabling sharing options
Apple usually allows you to share folders/files with users on the same network you are on. This is not something you want when connected to a public Wi-Fi. Default settings usually have File Sharing disabled but it’s best to double check. For this go to ‘System Preferences’ then ‘Sharing’. Check to make sure the ‘File Sharing’ option is unchecked. Also go through the other sharing options such as ‘Remote Login’ and ‘Screen Sharing’ to check that these are disabled too. You can always go back and reactivate them later on.
2: Using a VPN
Using an unsecured Wi-Fi network makes it easier for hackers to monitor data being transferred between your devices and the Internet. Using a VPN can make it harder to hackers to do so. A VPN is basically a Virtual Private Network. It establishes an encrypted connection to the providers’ servers. Your data is sent through this encrypted connection making it harder for hackers to harvest your data. There are number of VPN providers such as ‘VPNBook’, ‘ExpressVPN’. Try to choose a provider which supports the ‘OpenVPN’ protocol and ‘DNS Forwarding’ and keeps no logs of customer activity.
3: Using safer browser extensions
In some cases Wi-Fi providers may insist that you connect to their network through a landing page which may contain third party ads, they can always link to harmful content. You can block these by using extensions such as AdBlock Plus. It will prevent ads from loading on your browser making sure you don’t click the wrong link.
You should also consider installing the extension ‘HTTPS Everywhere’. This will make sure your browser uses the secure version of websites where available and encrypt the connection between you and the site. Some organizations may ask to install a third-party app on your Mac in order to use their Wi-Fi. You should refuse as there is no way to confirm if it is safe for use.
4: Using Two Factor Authentication
2FA or ‘Two Factor Authentication’ is a very simple yet powerful way to protect your credentials. This way whenever you try logging in from a new location it requests a six-digit code to a mobile device such as an iPhone. This way in order to login you would require access to your password and mobile. You can do this all by installing a 2FA app on your devices such as Google Authenticator or Free OTP. Online services such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn also offer 2FA.
5: Locking it down
Then again there is always the possible scenario in which your Mac is stolen or someone steals your password info looking over your shoulder. Try to sit with your back to a wall or corner. A MacBook usually comes with FileVault encryption enabled by default. Thanks to this even if your Mac is stolen, thieves will not be able to access your data without the correct password. You can see if this is enabled by going to ‘System Preferences’ then go to ‘Security and Privacy’. Then click on ‘FireVault’. In case FireVault hasn’t been set up on your device, follow the steps here.
6: Track missing devices
You can also track your missing MacBook by using Apple’s ‘Find my Mac’ services. For this go to ‘System Preferences’ then go to ‘iCloud’. Check to see if you’re signed in to the MacBook with your own Apple ID. Just make sure the ‘Find my Mac’ option is checked. If your device does go missing then simply go to the iCloud website and sign in with your Apple ID. Next use ‘Find my Mac’ to find out your Mac’s last known location. You can also lock your MacBook remotely the next time it connects to the Internet. Anyone using the Mac will now require a special code to use it.
You should register you MacBook and serial number with an online service such as Immobilize so once your MacBook is recovered, the police will be able to return it.
7: Disable Guest users
The Mac OS contains a ‘Guest; account which can be used by friends and acquaintances. Guests can log in and use your web and other programs without of course accessing your files and information. But there is always a chance someone could use unsafe websites. It’s best to disable the Guest Account. For this go to ‘System Preferences’ then go to ‘Users & Groups’. Highlight the guest account on the left side and uncheck ‘Allow guests to log in to this computer’.
8: Using the on-screen keyboard
There is a type of malware known as ‘key loggers’ which record the keys you press on your keyboard to capture your password and send them back to hackers. Digital spies may also do the same using a microphone to perform ‘acoustic cryptoanalysis’ which allows them to monitor key presses. Attacks like these are rare but easier if you are using your Mac in public. Using a MacOS onscreen keyboard can make it harder for hackers to do so. So if you think you are entering sensitive information go to ‘System Preferences’ then go to ‘Accessibility’. Next, go to ‘Keyboard’ and select ‘Accessibility Keyboard’. Here you can enable and customize the keyboard as you wish.
I am a freelancer, so I can’t travel anywhere without my MacBook. I often use public Wi-Fi because it’s free, but it’s also one of the most dangerous things in the tech world, they are poorly encrypted, and that means anyone can spy on your online actions. I am glad that you mentioned a VPN, and why it is so important, I am using Surfshark provider right now.