Public Wi-Fi is great. It saves our mobile phone data and allows us to work and keep connected when we’re on the go – even on the London Underground. Many people have to use public Wi-Fi if they travel for work or have a long commute. But have you ever stopped to consider how secure the internet connection is?
The truth is public Wi-Fi hot spots are a prime target for cybercriminals. Hackers, scammers, and spies take advantage of the lack of security and strike when users do not have the appropriate protection on their device. Many public Wi-Fi hotspots do not even have a password to access the connection, or display the password publicly and keep it unchanged for years.
To keep prying eyes away from your personal information, you need a public Wi-Fi solution that will create a secure connection. Your online security can be compromised when you use public Wi-Fi, and a VPN (Virtual Private Network) can help to keep you safer online. A VPN is not a cybersecurity panacea, but it can help to give you peace of mind, and allow you to use public Wi-Fi without the threat of hackers stealing your private information and personal data.
If you use your phone, tablet, or laptop for any of the reasons below, you should consider installing a VPN to ensure you have a secure encrypted connection.
At the airport
We are encouraged to ‘go paperless’ to help reduce waste and protect the environment, which is undoubtedly a good thing. However, when abroad many of us use public Wi-Fi to avoid paying high roaming fees and that means we could be exposing our personal data and passport details when we look up our boarding pass information to hackers who target free airport Wi-Fi. This could also expose your name, address, and how long you will be away from home.
Checking your email
Whether you’re checking your personal or work emails, hackers may be able to view what you are sending when you are connected to public Wi-Fi. Email is rarely the most secure form of communication anyway, as it is generally unencrypted, but if you are also connecting via unsecured public Wi-Fi to check your emails then any information in those messages could be exposed.
Banking and online shopping
Accessing your online banking using a website or app is arguably one of the most attractive things you can do in the eyes of a cybercriminal and therefore never something you should attempt over anything other than your home or work Wi-Fi. If you try and access your online banking whilst connected to public Wi-Fi you are potentially putting your finances at risk by exposing your online banking details to hackers and scammers online.
Most people check their social media accounts regularly, including when we are connected to public Wi-Fi. This leaves your posts, photos, and passwords vulnerable when you log in to platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok. We may joke that social media is ‘just for fun’, but it is also a lifeline to the world and a major source of income for many people, and so having some hack into or steal your account could be devastating.
How can I stay secure?
The first and most basic step of staying secure is to keep your operating system and apps up-to-date, to make sure that you are not leaving open a major security flaw in the software you use.
Choose strong passwords and switch on 2FA
Time to stop using the name of your favourite pet as your password for everything, and instead start using a password manager like LastPass or 1Password so that you can have unique 16-digit-long passcodes for every site. And if a website or service offers two-factor authentication (2FA) then enable it.
Antivirus software has been a mainstay for Windows users for decades, but it is useful for all platforms to keep your devices secure, with firms like Bitdefender and F-Secure offering some of the best solutions around.
Use a VPN
VPNs encrypt your web traffic, and so they do a good job at keeping your data secure even when using traditional insecure tools like email or connecting to the web via public Wi-Fi. They also have the added bonus of being to hide your location, so that you can access different streaming libraries or find cheaper deals as if you are searching from abroad.