How to Protect Yourself While Using Public WiFi

Marla Milano

Marla Milano Last updated: August 30, 2021

How to Protect Yourself While Using Public WiFi

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Nowadays, there are very few places where you can’t get free public WiFi. Maybe you’re a student studying on campus, or perhaps you’re a professional working out of a coffee shop to mix up your WFH routine. Maybe you’re even just dining at a restaurant or are visiting a hotel because your friends are in town. No matter the scenario, the point is the access to WiFi is nearly infinite at this point, but that kind of access may or may not come with unintended consequences. 

With our tips, we can ensure that you will be much safer when connected to public WiFi. Depending on your occupation or the type of sensitive information you store on your devices, we don’t recommend accessing public WiFi without a secure VPN. Still, there are other measures you can take to make the chance of your device staying safe much higher. Plus, it’s good to get out of your home every once in a while, right?

While it may seem counterintuitive, public WiFi is actually in no way secure— and a password login doesn’t necessarily add an extra layer of security. There are plenty of hackers who love public WiFi just as much as you do, posing a risk for identity theft or even money theft.

Hackers may be on a public network or a fake WiFi hotspot with an inconspicuous network name. Connecting to WiFi is often a mindless, or even automatic, process. Be sure to check with an employee to make sure you’re accessing the correct network associated with their business. Regardless of how a hacker may want to connect to your device, they intend to access your personal information. Hackers can even input malware on your device by sending fake push notifications about updating software on your computer. Clicking through these updates actually broadcasts your sensitive information in real-time, which is why it is so important to prepare yourself before connecting to a public network. Take a look at our top 3 tips for safety below.

Cover Your Bases

If you’re in a situation where you have to use a public WiFi network, which is probably often, avoid using websites that need personal information such as bank accounts, your social security number, or where you live. It’s crucial not to make any significant financial transactions on public WiFi. You should always verify the network you’re connecting to. Most public places have an official login page. Think of a time you were at a Starbucks or airport. These logins will prompt you to enter your email or accept the terms of the public network. If none of the above pops up on your screen, you might be in trouble.  

Turn on Your Firewall

There is no reason for you to have your sharing preferences turned on while connected to a public network. Once you verify the network you’re connecting to, turn off your file sharing option before getting immersed in whatever you will be working on. All you need to do is go to your system preferences or control panel, depending on your OS. Whether you own a PC or a Mac, you will also want to access your control panel or system preferences to turn on your firewall. Firewalls protect your devices from any malware-related threats. It will also secure your data from any potential attacks from hackers.

Use a VPN

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) will encrypt your IP address so you can maintain privacy while surfing the web. Installing a reliable VPN is by far one of the best measures you can take to stay secure on a public network. The data processed on a VPN won’t be visible to hackers, meaning they won’t be able to access any of your personal information or browsing habits. You can even mask your IP address to a completely different location, giving hackers no way of knowing you’re working on an important project at that fancy coffee shop you like to go to.

The only caveat is that not all VPNs are created equal. Some are free, and some are not, while others specialize in movies versus music or software. Paid VPNs, however, are often inexpensive and give you an extra layer of security. If you’re unsure where to start, we suggest checking out our list of the best VPNs for security and privacy.