Is public Wi-Fi safe?

4 min
Online security issues in public Wi-Fi

What’s one of the first things to check at a hotel, restaurant, or train nowadays? The answer is obvious: available WiFi. People want to stay connected at all times, especially when traveling. But how safe is public Wi-Fi? Sometimes the risk is not taken into account, which can be a big mistake resulting in losing some important data. How to ensure public Wi-Fi security? Let’s have a look.

Is it safe to use public Wi-Fi?

Today, public Wi-Fi can be found anywhere. Train stations, airports, restaurants, coffeehouses, hotels… You can easily connect in each place. In many cities, there are also free Wi-Fi hotspots. People use them to spare mobile transfer, wishing not to waste the paid gigabytes. It’s also convenient while traveling. But is using public Wi-Fi safe? Generally, using this kind of network is not recommended, especially when working with some sensitive data.

You never know who can hack your computer…

When at a hotel lobby or café, you cannot be sure who sits nearby drinking coffee or reading a book. There’s always a risk to bump into a hacker. So, it makes sense to be particularly cautious and take additional protection measures when connecting to WiFe in public places. But first, it is important to understand what it is exactly that should you protect your device from. 

What security risk does a public Wi-Fi connection pose?

Public Wi-Fi security risks include having your device infected by a virus or spying software. As a result of such infection, you may lose some important data from your computer, or this data may simply be stolen from you. Imagine if someone steals your job projects, passwords, client database, or other important info. Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? But, fortunately, it does not happen to every single one of us. Moreover, there are ways to protect your device so that even if the hackers try to hijack your connection, they get nothing out of such tries.

Free Wi-Fi is secure to use if…

… you simply know about precaution measures and apply them to make the connection more secure. We describe such precaution measures below. Most of them you should take before connecting to a foreign network. 

Remember that nothing will give you a 100% guarantee of safety, though. That’s why some people avoid connecting to public networks altogether. If you have the possibility, you can use your own network at all times. For example, you can buy a mobile Wi-Fi router with its own SIM card. However, most dangers of using public Wi-Fi can be prevented without extra equipment.

How to stay safe on public Wi-Fi?

  • Make sure it is really the network you want to connect to. Hackers can set up a hotspot with a name very similar to the official one. For instance, the restaurant has Wi-Fi named “TastyBurgers”. What if someone nearby created another one called “TastyBugrers”. See the difference? Always double-check and connect only to the official networks.
  • If possible, use only networks that require a password to connect. It is better when the password isn’t freely available. In some locations, you can find it written on the shop window or on the restaurant doors. Everyone who enters sees it. In this case, it’s even easier to create a false Wi-Fi (see the previous point). The same password allows you to connect to both real and fake network and it is hard to differentiate between the two, especially if you are in a hurry. So to increase public Wi-Fi security, use only those networks that do not have a WiFi password publicly available. Having to ask the staff for a password instead of just using the one written on the wall lowers the risk, although it doesn’t eliminate it.
  • Try to connect only to websites with the symbol of the padlock in the address bar. Those are secured with HTTPS protocol. That means that data sent during connection gets encrypted. Is it safe on public Wi-Fi? It definitely lowers the danger, but it doesn’t protect from spying completely.
  • Make sure that your antivirus software is up-to-date. It makes no sense to install it once and never care for updates. Also, check the settings of your system’s firewall.
  • While connecting to an unknown network, mark it as public. This setting is default in recent versions of Windows. It’s better to leave it like that. Besides, check the network settings on your other devices. To avoid the dangers of public Wi-Fi, don’t allow your smartphone or laptop to connect automatically to any network available.
  • Install a VPN (Virtual Private Network) app. It will help you stay protected from hackers’ attacks. This software increases anonymity and secures your connection to the internet. 

Now we’ll focus on that last method because it requires extra explanation. It is powerful enough to protect you even in untrusted networks.

Is it safe to use public Wi-Fi with VPN?

Every time you connect with a VPN client, the data you send and receive is encrypted. It makes intercepting your data nearly impossible. Moreover, the VPN connection alters the IP address of your device. You can imagine that type of connection as a tunnel where all the data is hidden from the intruders.

Thanks to such a solution, you can protect your passwords or files while using widely available networks. Is public Wi-Fi safe with VPN? Yes, if the software is up-to-date (the same can be said about antivirus programs).

Using a private internet connection can get troublesome. If you have no more gigabytes of mobile transfer left but there’s an urgent need to send an important e-mail, it is good to know how to do it safely, without exposure to hackers’ activities. 

So is it safe to connect to public Wi-Fi? Yes, if certain conditions are met. Install the VPN software, check your antivirus and be careful with the networks’ names. Stay protected on the internet!

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