Even if you’re well-aware of public WiFi security risks, it’s likely that you still connect to free networks every now and then.
Does this sound familiar?
“I know that public WiFi isn’t safe, and there’s a risk of scam or data stealing, but it probably won’t happen to me.” You’re thinking that a chance to spend time online outweighs any potential risk, especially if you’re traveling abroad and there’s no other way to connect.
It looks like our level of dependency on the internet has reached the point of no return: most of us can’t resist connecting to a strong WiFi signal for a few minutes. Not to mention that most of us are ready to exchange pieces of personal data such as email, name, or access to social media accounts for 30 minutes of free WiFi.
If you’ve never thought about the dangers of connecting to public WiFi, it will comfort you to know that a whopping 60 percent of people say they do not worry about their personal data when connected to an open WiFi hotspot. And how wrong they are!
So. . . Is Public WiFi Safe?
No, it’s not.
There are many types of online security risks associated with using public WiFi and cases of hacking through public WiFi are more common than you think.
Statistics confirm that 87% of internet users have put their information in danger while using free WiFi. There is a very high chance of falling a victim to online crime!
Long story short, public WiFi networks are like a godsend to hackers. The vulnerabilities of open networks make it easy for online criminals to intercept all kinds of personal data going through a router. This includes passwords, browsing history, emails, and even credit card information.
How to Stay Safe on Public WiFi
We understand it is not realistic to never use public WiFi. That’s why we’ve composed a list of measures you can take to minimize the risks.
Set Up a Virtual Private Network
Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is one of the easiest ways to stay safe on public WiFi. A VPN hides your IP address, which means you can browse anonymously. Unlike a regular “private browsing” mode available in most browsers, a VPN protects not only your past data like browsing history but also prevents hackers from seeing what you’re doing online in real time.
Find a Reliable Anti-malware and Anti-spyware Solution
Malware and spyware are extremely common these days. If you’re a frequent user of public WiFi, you’re in a high-risk group.
The signs of malware and spyware are strange errors, annoying pop-ups, and weird toolbars appearing in your browser. Apart from being extremely annoying, it also endangers your security and privacy online. To prevent this from happening, make sure to use a quality anti-malware and anti-spyware software.
Good news: if you have a quality ad blocker installed on your device, you’re already protected from malware and spyware.
Don’t Keep Your Connection Turned on When Not in Use
For the sake of online security, turn off your connection to public WiFi as soon as you’re done using it. The thing is that the longer you stay on the network, the higher the risk of falling victim to one of the many public WiFi dangers. In fact, when you’re not actually using your device while connected to public WiFi, you make it even easier for hackers to do their job: when you don’t look at your screen, you won’t notice any suspicious activity happening on your device.
If you need one more reason to always turn WiFi off, here’s one: staying connected is not good for your battery life.
When Possible, Avoid Financial Transactions
One of the riskiest things you can do while connected to a public WiFi network is to complete a financial transaction. Things like paying online and accessing your bank account over an unsecured public WiFi network are a shortcut to being hacked.
As I’ve already mentioned, many public WiFi networks have vulnerabilities that make it easy for hackers to intercept your data. Imagine what may happen if they intercept your online banking account credentials or CVV code.
Among Free WiFi Hotspots, Choose the Most Secure One
Not all free WiFi networks are equal. There are absolutely open networks like those you see at the airport or in a shopping mall and there are semi-opened networks like the ones owned by coffee shops and restaurants. The second type of public WiFi is safer for two reasons. Firstly, there are fewer people connected, which makes such network less attractive to hackers. Secondly, most of the restaurants and cafes secure their networks by a password which you can usually get on a receipt for your order or in an app like WiFi Map or Instabridge. Although still public, such WiFi network is much safer to use.
Make Use of Two-Factor Authentication
Simply put, two-factor authentication (2FA) is an extra layer of protection. When two-factor authentication is enabled, you need to complete two steps to login to your accounts. The additional step could be a security question, your fingertip, or a secret code sent to your mobile phone.
When 2FA is enabled, hackers will need to know the answer to your security question or have access to your phone or have your fingertips to access your account, even if they have already intercepted your email and password.
As you can see, staying safe on public WiFi is not rocket science. In fact, most of the principles you should follow are general rules of internet hygiene. So next time you’re about to connect to a public WiFi hotspot in a hotel or at the airport, make sure you’ve done all you can to keep yourself safe.