Accessing the internet and browsing online has become easier than ever with public Wi-Fi and 24/7 wireless connections. Whether you are in high school or attending university, securing your data and protecting your privacy anytime you are online is essential.

With the rise of data breaches, hacks, and identity theft, knowing how to properly use the internet on a public connection is imperative to prevent your information from getting into the wrong hands. In some schools and universities, you may lose your rights to your browsing data once you have accessed the school’s provided network. Maintaining security and privacy while using your devices at school does not require specialized tools or software in most cases and can be done with minor tweaks and updates before accessing preferred websites.

Review Your School’s Privacy and Data Policies

Before you access an internet connection at your school, review privacy and data policies that are often provided in your official handbook (or on the official website of your school or university). Not all schools collect and treat data in the same manner, which is why it is necessary to familiarize yourself with any potential limits or restrictions you may face while browsing.

Use a Secured Web Browser

Use a secured web browsing whenever you are searching for information while at school. Secured browsers limit tracking and provide you with more freedom and flexibility over traditional browsers such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. Some of the most popular secured web browsers include Opera, Brave, Chromium, or even a Tor browser, depending on your needs and the type of surfing you intend to do.

Alternative browsers offer anonymity features that are not always available in mainstream solutions. For more information on top secure browsers, read here.

Avoid Logging in When Using an Unsecured Connection

Avoid logging into important email or social media accounts while you are using an unsecured connection. If you need to check your bank account, email, or social media, use your phone’s 3/4G network without allowing automatic access to your school’s unsecured network. Do not use your main email address and password while browsing on your school’s connection. Most unsecured networks are extremely vulnerable to hackers and potential thieves who have the ability to access devices that are currently connected.

Use Apps With End-to-End Encryption

While many apps on the market today utilize encryption to help protect and secure data, most of them do not offer end-to-end encryption. Popular messaging applications such as Facebook messenger do not provide end-to-end encryption, leaving you vulnerable to sharing personal information with complete strangers. Whenever you are using a public internet connection, stick to apps such as WhatsApp to ensure your data is not shared with others and to prevent your conversations from being read or viewed by the provider or others who are also connected to the same network as you. Research each individual application you are thinking of using on a public connection before downloading it or allowing it access to your device while you are connected to your school’s Wi-Fi network.

Do Not Use the “Remember Me” Function While Using a Public Connection

Whenever you do choose to log in to a website or when you enter a username on an unsecured network, avoid checking “Remember Me” when prompted. The “remember me” feature is optimal for home and personal computers only. Even if you log out after using your connection (especially on a public computer or device), your username may reappear to the next user, increasing your chances of becoming a target.

Be Aware of What You Post Publicly and to Social Media Accounts

While social media has become commonplace and it is more popular than ever, it is still important to remain self-aware when using it, especially if you represent a university or a special program you have been accepted into at school. Using social media improperly or offensively has lead to hundreds of suspensions, expulsions, and real-life consequences, making it difficult for students to rebuild their personal and professional reputations, even after graduation.

Review your school’s privacy policy when it comes to data collection and storage before updating your social media accounts and official pages. Even if you are using your own personal device but you are connected to the internet using your school’s network, you may be liable for anything that is uploaded and shared. Posting inflammatory, offensive, or illegal information using your social media accounts or even your own website and blog can result in real-life consequences that impact your education and future.

Use Your Own Hotspot if Possible

Whenever possible, avoid connecting to public internet connections. Use your own Wi-Fi hotspot whenever you can to avoid putting your data and information at risk while sharing your browsing history publicly. Personal hotspots are available with most mobile phone carriers and ISPs (Internet Service Providers), although they may cost a nominal fee each month.

Delete Your Browsing History

Always delete your browsing history once you are done using the internet connection provided by your school or university. Avoid storing cookies and cache on your device to begin browsing again with a clean slate the next time you reconnect.

Log Out When You Are Done Browsing

Never forget to log out of any public device that is using your school’s connection, even if it is for a website that is unimportant to you or not for personal use. Leaving yourself logged in can lead to others using your accounts to search for more information about you or post information without your knowledge or consent. Taking the right precautions can prevent unnecessary headaches and trouble if your login information finds its way to a hacker or an individual who has malicious intent.

Getting familiar with online security and taking measures to protect your privacy is extremely important anytime you are browsing the internet at school or university. With the right tweaks and by remaining aware of your choices, ensure your information remains safe and protected from unwanted consequences.