5 Ways to remain safe on a public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi networks are all around us may be in hotels, coffee shops or airports. However, we often use them without a second thought, without knowing that these networks pose security risks and should be used with caution. 


The problem with public Wi-Fi is that you do not know who runs it or who else is sharing the network. It may say “airport Wi-Fi”, but it could actually be some guy with a laptop. Even if it is a legitimate network, anyone can view data sent over public networks. 


Think of it like using a telephone, where you are calling from the kitchen, but someone in the bedroom could be listening in. The same is with Wi-Fi, you are connected to the Internet, and anyone else in the same network can potentially see sensitive data like your passwords and credit card information that you send over the network. 


While you should always be cautious, there are several ways you can help keep your data secure while using public Wi-Fi networks. Let’s go over 5 effective ways that help to keep your data safe on public Wi-Fi: 


1- Avoid Accessing Sensitive Data 


First and foremost, avoid accessing sensitive data while on public Wi-Fi. Reading the news is fine, but you should think twice before checking your bank account on a public network. 


Any website like an online store or bank where you enter a password or putting credit card details or other financial information is a risk. These websites tried to encrypt your data, but it is not guaranteed protection. Try to only access these websites at home or on a trusted network. 


2- Connect to Trusted Networks


The second tip is to only connect to networks that you trust. Anyone with a router can set up a Wi-Fi network. So look for Wi-Fi names that you recognise and expect in your location. Something like “seattle airport WI-Fi” is more likely to be safe than “HarryHotspot123”. 


You can see the list of networks near you by selecting the network status icon in the system tray. Some public networks are password protected. The classic example is a coffee shop with a password written on the wall. These are generally more secure than a true open network, but you should still use caution because you are sharing the network with the public in that space. 


When you connect to public networks, you should avoid connecting automatically. This will ensure that you use the networks when you intend to and won’t accidentally get connected. In Windows 10, “connect automatically” checkbox under open networks is unchecked by default to prevent this from happening. If you are connecting to a public network with the password, you will need to manually uncheck. 


3- Stay Safe – Use VPN 


One of the best ways to be safe on a public connection is to use a VPN as it encrypts the traffic between your device and the server. 


You can use a VPN for IOS to encode all the data being sent over Wi-Fi. This hides your data from anyone who is “listening” on the same Wi-Fi network as you. Using VPN whether for laptop or iOS, adds an extra layer of security. 


Using a VPN has two major benefits. First, because of the encryption in the VPN tunnel, your data is now more secure and second, because of this connection to your VPN server, you can now remotely and easily access my network resources at home. 


So if you are someone who travels a lot, I would recommend getting a VPN for a laptop and VPN for IOS. 


4- Use HTTPS 


Do you notice the little green lock when you type in your URL in your browser? You see the picture of a green lock and you probably think it is safe. You should know it is more than just a conforming image. You should always be checking to make sure that your little lock friends are with you when you are browsing at all times. 


It is telling you at the very least the site you are on is both sending and receiving information that is encrypted, which is incredibly comforting to know. Especially, if a malicious user is sitting on public Wi-Fi just waiting for you to send packets of information in the form of credit card numbers, passwords, account information, or whatever that you want to keep private.   


5- Make sure your Firewall is on


When on any network even safe at home, you should make sure that your firewall is on. Type in “Windows Security” in Windows search, open the app, and select “firewall & network protection.” The message you are looking for should say “Firewall is on”. If the firewall is turned off for any of your networks, select it and set the toggle switch to on. 


If you need to transmit sensitive data, instead of using public Wi-Fi, consider other options. Use your phone as a mobile Hotspot and control the network and who is on it. 


Final Thoughts 


To many of us, it sounds harmless to log on and check our social media account, browse some news articles or any everyday activities that require a login like reading email or checking your bank account could be risky business on public Wi-Fi, but there are tremendous numbers of risks that go along with these networks.  


Free Wi-Fi is potentially very dangerous and few people really understand the risks. Thus, as mentioned above, there are a bunch of security features on the web and on our computers that protect us. Unfortunately, the bad guys are pretty clever in finding ways around those!


Therefore, in addition to using above 5 tips also make sure that keep your devices up-to-date and if you must, use a VPN when connecting to an open Wi-Fi network, disable file-sharing, log out of accounts when done using them, never leave your Wi-Fi or Bluetooth on if you are not using them, never access websites that hold your sensitive information.  

Adam Hansen

Adam is a part time journalist, entrepreneur, investor and father.