How to Use Public Wi-Fi Safely (and Alternatives to Keep in Mind)

Woman at computer

Public Wi-Fi has become so accessible that many of us eagerly search for it and connect to open hubs without thinking.

However, connecting to public Wi-Fi could leave you exposed to cybercriminals that might keep tabs on your financial transactions, email correspondences or anything else you do online.

One of the most common methods of attack involves hackers tricking you into thinking you’re connected to a valid network — such as one operated by a hotel or coffee shop. In reality, hackers named the false network to make it seem legit to unsuspecting victims, then monitor individuals’ activities.

You can stay safer while connected to a public network by doing a few simple things every time you connect.

Don’t Store the Network Login Credentials

Computers can handily remember passwords and usernames required for public Wi-Fi access if you consent to use that feature. However, it’s best to disable that capability — usually by un-checking the Remember This Network box when logging in. You may also need to go into your computer’s settings and manually delete networks to make it forget Wi-Fi connections when you’re not using them.

Otherwise, your computer or mobile device could log in to networks without your knowledge. That typically happens whenever you’re in range of a previously used Wi-Fi network.

Avoid Connecting Workplace Devices

Sometimes instead of taking things from your computer, hackers install stuff onto it. Malware is one of the software-related risks associated with unsecured devices people use for work. The best practice is not to connect your workplace equipment to public hotspots at all. Then, hackers can’t infiltrate it to either steal data or add corrupt applications.

Only Visit Extra-Secure Sites or Take Part in Casual Browsing

Get in the habit of only going to websites that include the “https” prefix or offer two-factor authentication. Then, if a hacker does enter your system as you use a public network, it’s harder for them to obtain useful details.

Consider only using public Wi-Fi when doing things not of interest to cybercriminals — for example, checking the weather forecast or reading the news headlines. Don’t check your bank account or participate in online shopping.

These tips steer you in the right direction while using public Wi-Fi. However, you should also consider alternatives to using public Wi-Fi in a typical way:

1. Connect Through a VPN

Companies offer free and paid VPN services that keep your details private as you browse. It’s easy to launch one of those apps before connecting to a public hotspot. Doing so gives you an extra layer of protection.

2. Use Your Own Data

Most mobile phone plans today come with data packages, allowing you to get online via your smartphone with no hotspots in sight. Alternatively, you can invest in a mobile hotspot, which is a handheld device that generates a Wi-Fi access point for you.

One advantage is that device manufacturers often hard-code passwords into those gadgets and make them hidden. For instance, they might put the Wi-Fi password on a sticker inside the battery compartment.

Stay Safe and Thoughtful

One of the most important aspects of staying protected as you use the internet away from home is an awareness that you cannot assume your data is safe on a public hotspot. These tips help you browse responsibly.