Using Public Wi-Fi Safely

By Lindsey Schrant

Free internet access is tempting, but there are risks to connecting your devices publicly

Public Wi-Fi may seem like a great way to save money on data or on your own internet usage, but there are some real risks associated with using one of these easily hacked hotspots. Without using the proper precautions, you are setting yourself up to hackers intercepting data like your personal information, digital identity and even your money. These are all items that could be used to harm you if put in the wrong hands. To help keep you safe while online using public internet, we have identified a few best practices to implement the next time you want to take advantage of free Wi-Fi services.

Set up malware protection or anti-virus software on your device

This is just general good practice whether you connect to public Wi-Fi or not. Having a way to safeguard your device against hackers is one way to help protect yourself and your personal information. With these anti-malware and anti-virus solutions, be sure to keep them updated and test them regularly to ensure they're working properly.

Verify it's a legitimate Wi-Fi source

If you find an open, non-password protected Wi-Fi source, don't just assume that it is a link you can trust. Malicious users set up fake accounts to try to gather your valuable personal information. Especially be wary of links at restaurants, coffee shops, or other highly trafficked public places. If you are in a store and restaurant, don't just look for an open Wi-Fi spot to connect to that has the company's name in it. Hackers and identity thieves deliberately set up open hotspots with similar names to the coffee shop, restaurant, etc. that you are in so you automatically think it's a trusted source. Before connecting to a source that doesn't require a passcode, ask an employee to verify that it is their Wi-Fi. Generally, if the Wi-Fi is password protected and the information has been given to you by an employee, you can trust that it is a verified account. However, do still be wary of what sites you access and any popups you encounter while browsing.

Be cautious of which websites you access

It is not advisable to be on websites where hackers could gather your personal information, especially when you are accessing public Wi-Fi. This includes: websites you log in to (yes, this means social media!), online financial services or any website where you store or input your credit card information. It is best to avoid logging into these types of accounts unless you are on a secured network.

Consider a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

VPNs work by creating a private tunnel to encrypt any of your personal data that passes through it. This will help block cybercriminals from accessing your personal data. You can download a VPN to your device and set it up according to brand specifications. There are a handful of free VPNs available to download to your device. If you opt for a paid option, on average you will spend about $7 a month to protect your data - a miniscule cost considering what could come of a malicious attacker trying to intercept your important data like banking or social security numbers.

We hope you learned some best practices for using public Wi-Fi! Just try to be cautious about the kinds of hotspots you're connecting to and avoid logging in with any personal information on free Wi-Fi to avoid anyone with malicious intent to get ahold of it. The most important thing is to just verify the Wi-Fi source can be trusted and use your best judgement before exposing yourself to potential predators.

Lindsey Schrant
Read more from Lindsey
Hello, there! I began saving money at a young age by cutting out coupons from the Sunday newspaper. In those days, the fruits of my thrifty handiwork went toward treats for my beloved pets! Today, I still find it incredibly satisfying when I find a great deal or discover fresh, new ways to live a frugally full life.

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