Today, free public Wi-Fi can be found everywhere from airports, restaurants, coffee shops, libraries, public transport, hotel rooms, you name it. This allows for a convenient way to check up on social media, catch up on work, and check emails while on the go.
However, the security risks should not be forgotten! Try to avoid working with sensitive data when you’re using unsecured, public Wi-Fi. This may be a good time to check the news or read your favorite blogs, but it is probably not the best time to do your online banking.
In this article, we’ll cover the additional measures you should be aware of when using public Wi-Fi.
6 Ways to Stay Safe On Public Wi-Fi Networks
1. Pick the Right Networks
Let’s make it clear, not all Wi-Fi is created equal. Rule of thumb, if the Wi-Fi has the word FREE in it and requires no password or login to access it, you should be especially careful of your online activity.
For example, “Free Airport Wi-Fi” is undoubtedly worse than any other Wi-Fi network provided by your local coffee shop or gym.
Various reasons make public “Free” Wi-Fi susceptible to attack. One issue has to do with the encryption protocol used by some wireless networks. Another reason has to do with the possibility of joining a rogue Wi-Fi hotspot. (Norton Security.)¹
2. Read the Terms & Conditions Before Joining
If your traveling and need to connect to the internet to address an issue at work, you may find yourself hunting down the nearest Wi-Fi to check that urgent email. That sense of urgency may force you to skim over your login credentials and bypass the Terms & Conditions. I get it, and rarely do I ever read the Terms & Conditions, but here’s something you need to know.
Marketing firms have been setting up wi-fi networks in public places to offer “free internet” in return for an email address and phone number. No, not necessarily a security issue, but you may start getting suspicious emails and calls from solicitors.
If you have a look through the Terms & Conditions you can see how they will use your information. From here, you can opt into using a junk-email address or an alternative phone number.
3. Avoid Using Personal Data / Secure Information
This is less a technical tip, but it’s important to stress this exact point again: If at all possible, avoid doing more serious tasks like bill paying, accessing your bank account, using your credit card, or even filling taxes when connected to public Wi-Fi.
Those tasks and transactions are for when you’re connected safely to your home network, where you’re a lot less likely to get targeted by cyber attacks.
Additionally, you should avoid signing into secure logins, such as work-related website, emails, etc. Connecting to unsecured networks puts you at risks for hackers to install listening tools that can track your keyboard entries and mouse track. This can cause a whole host of issue ranging further than your personal computer.
4. Use Antimalware Software & Privacy-Protecting Browser Extensions
If you’re a digital nomad or constantly travel for work utilizing Free Wi-Fi is your game. If you’re constantly connecting to these networks it’s exceptionally important to use antimalware software & privacy-protecting extensions to prevent hacks.
We highly, HIGHLY recommend using, Malwarebytes, especially for Mac users. This will protect you from malware infections and its free! Also be sure to make sure your operating systems are updated promptly. Updates often patch up software vulnerabilities, not to mention keep everything running smoothly.
If you’re a Google Chrome user be sure to download a privacy-protecting extension. These will warn you when there is suspicious activity on a site you’re visiting. One great extension you should consider is Adblock Plus. It will help you avoid malware-hosting domains, and also disables third-party tracking cookies and scripts.
5. Be Your Own Hotspot
Modern laptops and phones allow you to share your hotspot with others. Rather than risk yourself or others in your group, one person could designate a device as a hotspot.
Of course, the best person to do this is someone with unlimited data or a carrier data plan with LTE+ on their laptop, tablet, or phone. Though it may not be the fastest, will be more secure!
6. Use A VPN
Let’s finish with this, a VPN is your best defense against hackers.
Virtual private networks, or VPNs, funnel your internet data through a securely encrypted server. Since they hide your activity and geographic location, they can be used for all kinds of purposes, some of them being criminal
These applications include evading surveillance, maintaining privacy and accessing international websites.
The biggest takeaway from this article is that public Wi-Fi is not nearly as safe as you think. Even if they have a secure password, you’re sharing a network with tons of other people, which means your data is at risk. These steps will prevent risk, but you should always be cautious your activity when using Wi-Fi in public places.