Wi-Fi 101: How to Tell If Your Connection is Not Private

iStock
iStock

Free and readily-accessible Wi-Fi is just about everywhere these days, including cafes, hotels, airports, bars, offices, subway stations, and even public parks. But how do you know that the network you're using will keep your personal information protected? While most wireless routers and laptops have built-in firewall protections, just about anyone connected to the same network could peer into your device and view your activity without you even knowing it, even when you're online in the comfort of your very own home.

Fortunately, most modern browsers—including Apple’s Safari, Microsoft Edge, and Google Chrome—have privacy features built-in, but every now and then an error message stating something like “Your Connection Is Not Private” may pop up on your browser and prevent you from visiting an unsafe website (which doesn't necessarily mean a website or your connection is corrupted; there are multiple reasons why this error warning can be triggered). There are a few ways to tell whether your connection is secure from hackers who want your passwords, credit card information, or other information you want to keep private.

First off, make sure you see a padlock icon next to the Wi-Fi icon in your computer's toolbar or, if you're using Windows, that there is a security type mentioned in the “Security” tab to make sure you’re on a password-protected and private network. And before you part with any money or passwords online, make sure you see

https://” instead of the commonly used “http://” at the beginning of the URL, which is an easy way to make sure you're on a secure site. You can also look for a closed padlock icon on the browser toolbar itself; this is an extra layer of protection that verifies websites as legitimate and uncompromised, and encrypts your personal info from end-to-end, so that hackers can’t read it.

Most Internet browsers also have a private or incognito browsing feature under the “File” tab, which automatically clears your browsing and search history and doesn't store Internet cookies for tracking services or ad targeting. While this feature “hides” your web activity, it doesn't make you invisible from internet service providers, employers, or the websites themselves.

Although it might enable your device to “talk” to other internet-enabled devices in your home or office, like a printer, you also want to turn off sharing on your laptop once you’re in public. Sharing can allow anyone on your Wi-Fi network to access files and folders on your device.

On a PC, open the “Control Panel,” click “Network and Internet,” and then “Choose Change Advanced Sharing Settings.” From here you can turn off file and printer sharing. Furthermore, laptops running Windows 10 can enable a “Make This PC Discoverable” feature to set it from public to private. On a Mac, go to “System Preferences” and then “Sharing” and make sure all checkboxes are unchecked.

In addition, you can enable a firewall to block unauthorized access into your computer, while you can communicate with the outside world via the Internet. On a PC, fire up the “Control Panel,” and then click “System and Security” to enable a firewall. On a Mac, launch “System Preferences,” and then go to “Security & Privacy” to turn it on.

Lastly, consider using a virtual private network (VPN) when browsing the Internet. While turning off sharing and enabling a firewall might prevent hackers from looking into your laptop, a VPN can block an Internet provider, including Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and Time Warner, from knowing which websites you visit through your IP address altogether (although some VPN companies have been known to sell your browsing history). Services like Project Tor can mask that information by bouncing it around through a series of random servers—each with its very own IP address—from all around the world. So instead of sending web info from your laptop in Cicero, Illinois to a server in Chicago, a VPN would send that same info from Cicero to New York City to Amsterdam to Kuwait City to Manila to Los Angeles and then to Chicago.

There are also a few smaller things you can do to keep your Wi-Fi connection private, such as clearing your browsing data every few days or weeks, changing your passwords with a password manager like LastPass or Zoho Vault, and keeping your Wi-Fi turned off when you’re not using it. Luckily, most modern Internet browsers are really prompt about sending updates and patches to fix bugs and security breaches, but the best thing you can do is to stay vigilant and not join any open or sketchy Wi-Fi networks around you.

This Smart Accessory Converts Your Instant Pot Into an Air Fryer

Amazon
Amazon

If you can make a recipe in a slow cooker, Dutch oven, or rice cooker, you can likely adapt it for an Instant Pot. Now, this all-in-one cooker can be converted into an air fryer with one handy accessory.

This Instant Pot air fryer lid—currently available on Amazon for $80—adds six new cooking functions to your 6-quart Instant Pot. You can select the air fry setting to get food hot and crispy fast, using as little as 2 tablespoons of oil. Other options include roast, bake, broil, dehydrate, and reheat.

Many dishes you would prepare in the oven or on the stovetop can be made in your Instant Pot when you switch out the lids. Chicken wings, French fries, and onion rings are just a few of the possibilities mentioned in the product description. And if you're used to frying being a hot, arduous process, this lid works without consuming a ton of energy or heating up your kitchen.

The lid comes with a multi-level air fry basket, a broiling and dehydrating tray, and a protective pad and storage cover. Check it out on Amazon.

For more clever ways to use your Instant Pot, take a look at these recipes.

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7 Online Tech Course Programs That Will Help You Build New Career Skills

dusanpetkovic/iStock via Getty Images Plus
dusanpetkovic/iStock via Getty Images Plus

It's always a good time to build new career skills, and with these tech-related courses, you can learn anything from the basics of Python to the ins and outs of G Suite. These courses will boost your knowledge of the digital world and help you put some valuable new bullet points on your resume. Many of these courses allow you to read through the materials for free, but if you want to take advantage of graded coursework and earn a certificate of completion to include on your LinkedIn profile or resume at the end, there will be a fee of anywhere from $39 to $49.

1. UI/UX Design Specialization

In this four-class specialization on UI/UX design, you’ll discover how to design digital experiences that users can navigate with ease. Over about four months, you’ll learn the basics of visual communication and you’ll be able to practice gathering user feedback to build intuitive, attractive websites and interfaces.

Sign up on Coursera to take all four courses in this specialization for $49 a month.

2. Python for Everybody

Python is quickly gaining ground as one of the most in-demand programming languages for employers. Plus, its fans say it’s highly readable and approachable for new programmers just starting to learn a coding language. If you want to understand the basics of Python, from 101 principles to more advanced database design, these courses will get you started.

Sign up on Coursera to take all five courses in this specialization for $49 a month.

3. Data Science Professional Certificate

Data science is one of the fastest growing professions in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In this nine-course professional certificate program, you’ll start by learning basic data science methodology before moving into how to use Python and SQL to analyze and visualize data to forecast future trends. IBM estimates that you’ll complete the entire certificate in about 10 months if you commit four hours per week, but the timing is flexible enough to suit any schedule.

Sign up on Coursera to take all nine courses in this specialization for $39 a month.

4. Computer Architecture

This course, taught by an electrical engineering professor at Princeton, teaches students how to design computer hardware that supports powerful software. But be forewarned: This is an advanced class intended for students with extensive knowledge in computer science. If you’re looking for a beginner-level course, this class—also from Princeton—may be a better fit.

Sign up on Coursera for free.

5. AI for Everyone

If you’re worried that artificial intelligence will drive you out of the workforce, this course will help. Over the course of four weeks, you’ll learn the basics of what is and isn’t possible through AI—and you may even gain some ideas for how to use AI to augment your own career.

Sign up on Coursera for $49.

6. G Suite Administration Specialization

Become a Google Cloud expert with this series of courses put together by Google itself. Over about two months, you’ll learn management tactics and security guidelines for using Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs, and Calendar. This specialization prepares participants to become G Suite administrators at their respective companies and organizations.

Sign up on Coursera to take all five courses in this specialization for $49 a month.

7. Introduction to Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is near the top of the list of skills employers are looking for, according to LinkedIn. In this introductory course, you’ll gain a basic understanding of cloud-based networks and get some practice working with IBM Cloud.

Sign up on Coursera for $49.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.