Tips & Tricks

How to Safely Use Public Wifi

October 8, 2020

Accessing the internet has never been easier, but what does that mean for our internet safety?

Most of the time, the internet connection you use at your home or with your mobile device is relatively secure. With modern technology and an overall increase in network security, households have little to worry about when it comes to using their internet connection safely.

But what about when we're on-the-go, at the airport or working from the neighborhood coffee shop? Connecting to the public wifi, in places where a public wifi is offered, is relatively simple: find the network, click connect, enter the password, and you’re off to the races. What most users don’t realize though, is that free public wifi isn’t secure, at all.

Intrigued as to how Hackers can manipulate public wifi to steal your information? For a more in-depth look at the how, check out "How Does Public Wifi Pose A Security Threat".

Man with a face mask sits in airport and looks at phone

“Employees can now easily leak company data through the use of insecure public Wifi. This means that passwords and usernames can be seen and intercepted by others on the network….. Although public Wifi hotspots are an invaluable services, there is a strong need for businesses to stay on top of the potential threats and security risks.”
Tom Gaffney

Even when the wifi network requires a password to login, that doesn’t necessarily mean your browsing or online activities are secure. We all might love public wifi, but so do hackers! Put simply, if you use public wifi to transmit sensitive information without adequate protection, you’re risking your online identity, money, and more.

To help keep you safe while browsing along, here’s a few tips and tricks:

How to Safely Use Public Wifi

1. Use Hotspot 2.0

Across many metropolitan areas, Internet Service Providers have been putting up secure public wifi locations (“hotspots”) for customers. National providers like Xfinity, Optimum, Spectrum, or paid hotspot providers like Boingo have been adding thousands of hotspots to their network each year.

Think of these hotspots as a method to help people securely get on a hotspot, but also roam from hotspot to hotspot. All you need to do is enter your credentials to sign in once, and you will automatically connect to hotspots like this all over the country.

If it's an option for you - use it.

2. Subscribe to a Hotspot Network

There are paid wifi services like Boingo, which provides access to over 1 million hotspots around the globe. Simply pay them a monthly fee and use their certified hotspots that are safe, secure and always accessible.

Boingo has apps for mobile devices and most operating systems to help you find hotspots it supports and get signed in. The service costs $14.99 a month and you can connect up to four devices to those 1 million hotspots as many times as you want.

Tired of keeping track of all of your apps? Looking for a way to simplify your digital life and be more productive? Check out our blog post “Declutter Your Life” where we take a look into clutter archeology and ways to simplify your digital presence.

Woman with facemask looks at phone at a supermarket

3. Take Your Hotspot with You

Many mobile devices now have the ability to act as their own hotspot. Sure, it costs more and it isn’t the fastest, but it might be worth it if you've got a lot of traveling ahead. Just be sure to check your monthly data allotment. The last thing you want is to come home from vacation and see an unusually high bill from all of the Netflix you watched in the airport.

On iOS, just go to Settings > Wi-Fi > Personal Hotspot to enable your wifi. You can also change the password here to one that's a minimum of 8 characters and more suitable for you.

Android users can quickly access this feature by looking for a button under Quick Settings

4. Use a VPN

For true anonymity and security, there’s only one option: a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN creates a private connection between your laptop, tablet or smartphone and the VPN server on the other end, encrypting your web activity from anyone and everyone.

5. Avoid Personal Data

If at all possible, avoid tasks like paying the bills, checking your bank account or making a purchase when connected to public wifi. Save those activities for when you're connected safely to your home network, where you're a lot less likely to get targeted by hackers since that network is already secure.

Enjoying our digital advice? Read our “10 Best Digital Life Hacks” and learn how to make tech work in your favor, all the time.

Man with facemask looks at phone in an office space

6. Stay Up-to-Date

Updates are an annoying yet necessary evil for your computer and favorite apps. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security because you're a Mac or iPhone user - you are still vulnerable. Updates are serious business; they often fix serious security holes and help keep you protected. Once an update is available, everyone in the world knows about the holes in the previous iteration—if you haven't patched it, your device becomes low-hanging fruit to an opportunistic hacker.

Don't forget your mobile phone either. Luckily, automatic updates can help with that. iPhone users, go to Settings > iTunes & App Store >Updates, and flip it on. Android users can do the same with Google Play > Settings > Auto-update apps.

Unfortunately, staying up-to-date on safety best practices doesn't end at public wifi. For ways to safely use your mobile devices across the board, take a look at "Best Personal Safety Apps for iOS" and "Best Personal Safety Apps for Android".

Woman with facemask looks at phone with the logo superimposed in front.

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