How to Stay Safe When Using Public Wi-Fi

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Cybersecurity experts have some simple advice when it comes to using public wi-fi: don’t do it! Unfortunately, while this may be fine for specialists who have plenty of money to spend on secure hotspots and aren’t worried about data roaming charges, it’s not affordable or practical for most people.

Simply put, whether it’s checking email, paying a bill, researching office renovation ideas, buying something from Amazon (how did you live this long without a Harry Potter scarf?), or doing anything else on the digital landscape, free public wi-fi isn’t optional — it’s essential.

With this in mind, you obviously want to protect yourself as much as possible from hackers who would like nothing better than steal your confidential data, commit identity theft, and ransack your finances (and possibly use what they learn to hack your family members, friends and workplace, too). As such, here are three ways to stay safe when using public wi-fi:

  1. Use a good virtual private network (VPN).

A good VPN doesn’t make your internet session bulletproof — but it certainly does reduce the chances that hackers will snoop. Think of it like a sophisticated home alarm system. If they wish, experienced burglars can still break in. However, they’re much more likely to focus on homes that have a superficial alarm system, or better yet, no alarm system at all.

  1. Go HTTPS or bust.

HTTPS encrypts data that is transmitted between your device (e.g. smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop) and various websites that you visit. Like a VPN, HTTPS isn’t a guarantee that hackers still won’t be able to see what you’re doing. But it will make it more challenging for them. To put it another way: if you happen to be sitting next to a world-class hacker, then you’re in trouble. But if you’re sitting next to an average, run-of-the-mill hacker who goes after low hanging fruit, then you’ll probably be OK.

  1. Pay very close attention to the network name.

If you’re sitting in Joe’s Coffee Shop, you might see “Joe’s Coffee Shop Wi-Fi” listed as one of the networks. Seems safe, huh? Not necessarily! Hackers may have set up that phony network. Once you log on, they can see everything you do. The only way to avoid this trap is by paying very close attention to the network name, and verifying that it’s authentic. And if you aren’t 100% sure, then ask a staff member — never ask another customer, who may in fact be a hacker, or may be unaware that a fake network exists.

The Bottom Line

Ideally, you could travel around with your own secure, independent mobile hotspot and never worry again about the dangers of free public wi-fi. But until then, use the suggestions noted above to increase your safety and reduce your risk.

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About Kristin

Master reviewer of all types of products. Love XL Fountain Sodas!! Cheer Mom extraordinaire. Socialite to all things small town and founder of Come socialize and connect with me.

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