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Staying Safe from Cyberthieves While Gaming on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Public Wi-Fi usage is growing, and public Wi-Fi gaming is growing with it. There were about 7.8 million global public Wi-Fi hotspots in 2015, a number that will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 11.2 percent between now and 2020, ABI Research projects. Nine out of 10 Americans access public Wi-Fi networks at least once a month, and 43 percent connect on a weekly basis, according to an Avast survey.

But here's the problem: 68 percent don't take the security precaution of disabling automated access to local networks, and only 6 percent use virtual private networks (VPNs). Engage in these risky behaviors, and you could turn a fun gaming session into a security nightmare. Games are especially susceptible to cyberattack because hackers often disguise malware as game updates and utilities. Here are some steps you should take when using public Wi-Fi networks to ensure that hackers and identity theft don't spoil your gaming fun.

Avoid Suspicious Networks

Fake networks often pose as genuine ones by using names that include the word "free" or that mimic the appearance of a legitimate business. Take steps to avoid connecting to these types of networks.
  • Keep your firewall on, and beware of multi-user gaming sites that require you to make an exception to your firewall settings
  • Adjust your device settings to require your device to alert you before connecting to a local network
  • Turn off public file sharing and mark the Wi-Fi network you're connecting to as a public one
  • Verify that the network you're connecting to is an official one hosted by the establishment you're in by looking for password protection options or asking an employee

Use a Virtual Private Network

Using a VPN is one of the best ways to keep your device secure. A VPN encrypts traffic between your device and your server. Most VPN services cost a small fee, although there are also free VPN services that allow you to transmit a limited amount of data per day. If you're a heavy gamer who uses a large amount of traffic, you'll probably need to invest in a paid VPN option.

Stick to HTTPS Sites

The HTTPS communications protocol provides additional protection when browsing online by using encryption to authenticate websites and ensure privacy and integrity of exchanged data. Many HTTP websites only support HTTPS to a limited degree, defaulting to unencrypted HTTP or using links to unencrypted pages. You can fix this problem by using a browser extension such as HTTPS Everywhere, available for Firefox, Chrome and Opera.

Always make sure you are using an HTTPS site when typing sensitive data such as passwords and credit card numbers and other financial information. Additionally:
  • Only play games at official game sites and avoid browsing on other sites while playing
  • Play from a user account, and beware of unknown sites that require you to play games in administrator mode, which can open you up to hackers seeking to gain administrative control of your computer
  • Avoid gaming sites that require you to enable ActiveX or JavaScript, which can also expose your computer to vulnerabilities
  • Keep your antivirus program updated to catch potential threats
  • Use an identity theft protection service such as LifeLock to get additional protection should your financial information become compromised online

Do Your Updates at Home

To stay safe online, it's essential to keep your software updated for your operating system, browser, apps and antivirus program. However, you should do your updates on your home computer instead of a public Wi-Fi network. Update notifications on public Wi-Fi networks are often fraudulent notices, designed to trick you into downloading malware. Fake game updates and utilities can also conceal malware.

Log out of Your Network When You're Done

Finally, when using a public Wi-Fi network, make sure to disconnect when you're done. Log out of any services you were logged into. Tell your device to forget the network so you don't automatically connect again next time you're in range.

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