From local coffee shops to international airports, public Wi-Fi is pretty much everywhere in the developed parts of the world. But even though it is so readily available wherever you set foot nowadays, there are certain risks you take when using it.
Here’s the catch: not all Wi-Fi networks are secured, and the data you send through them can get intercepted by someone who’s tech-savvy enough. No matter where you are, here are ten best practices to keep in mind whenever you’re connected to a public Wi-Fi.
How to stay safe on public wifi – A to Z Guide for beginners
1. Don’t access your banking accounts
Even if the network you’re using is secured, it doesn’t mean that it’s safe enough for you to access accounts that contain sensitive personal data or are tied to your financial reserves. Doing so could inadvertently lead the bad guys straight to your money stash which they could transfer to another bank account or spend on online purchases. Speaking of which…
2. Don’t shop online
If you think that no sensitive personal data is put at risk when shopping online, think again. If you’re like most online shoppers, you’ve probably decided to store your credit card number on your web store account. Merely logging in to one could get your login credentials intercepted and put your bank account in jeopardy.
3. Don’t forget to turn on your VPN
If you want to ensure that the data you send through a public Wi-Fi doesn’t get intercepted by an unauthorized third party, using a VPN on your Android or iOS device is an excellent way to do it. You can download a user-friendly application for both operating systems. Simultaneously, a VPN will protect you from those who are trying to snoop on your location as well as conceal your identity online (given that you aren’t logged in to an account through which they could track your online activity).
4. Don’t leave your device unattended
While taking care of the digital aspects of protecting your device, we often tend to forget about the physical aspects of its security. Mind your surroundings at all times and don’t let it out of your sight, lest you risk it being misplaced or stolen. If you’re storing sensitive data on it, someone could snatch a peek at it without you even knowing.
5. Don’t keep the automatic connectivity feature turned on
Most modern laptops and smart devices have an automatic connectivity feature that scans the surroundings for a Wi-Fi network to connect to. As you’ve probably guessed, the security checks are not involved in the process, and you could be connecting to an unsecured network. By leaving it on, you’re trading security for comfort, a trade that’s not worth it in the end.
6. Don’t store login credentials on your smart device
While we’re on the topic of security versus comfort, this is another instance where this important principle comes to mind. Here’s the thing – if you leave the ‘remember me’ box ticked, your smart device could try to connect through an unsecured network and leave your login details exposed. Just in case you unknowingly stored your login credentials in your phone’s browser before, make sure they’re removed from it by clearing your browsing history (login details and cache should be cleared right along with it).
7. Don’t neglect to stick to HTTPS protocol
The HTTPS protocol is much more secure compared to the traditional HTTP protocol. Most modern websites have moved on to HTTPS, but this is not always the case. In simple terms, every piece of data that gets transferred through them is encrypted by default, thus making it much harder for hackers to get their hands on it. Of course, this is only relevant if you transfer sensitive data through it or store it on the website in question – if you’re checking the latest news or the weather forecast, either of these is fine.
8. Don’t move outside your private Wi-Fi network if possible
Your private Wi-Fi network should be protected by a strong password (which should be automatically generated to make it harder to penetrate). That way, hardly anyone – except those you grant the needed permissions to – will be able to break into your network and compromise any of the devices connected to it. Your personal Wi-Fi network won’t always be available, especially if you travel around a lot. In such cases, only use the public Wi-Fi to visit websites where no personal data or login credentials are required to use them.
9. Don’t be careless enough to leave the file sharing enabled
While you’re at home or in your hotel room, sharing files makes everything more convenient and time-efficient. But do the same on a public Wi-Fi network, and you risk an unauthorized third party gaining access to your files. Worse yet, this enables others to send you their files, which could include malware that has the potential to wreak some serious havoc on your privacy, data, and operating system. The exact procedure to turn it off varies from device to device, but the general principle pretty much stays the same no matter which one you’re using.
10. Don’t risk it with Bluetooth connectivity
Just like many similar features, Bluetooth connectivity was designed to make data sharing more convenient. However, it often comes at the cost of your privacy and security. Therefore, it’s a good idea to turn it off when visiting public places. That way, hackers won’t have a way of gaining access to your device through a Bluetooth signal. If they do manage to get in, they could install malware on your device, steal your data, or otherwise corrupt your system.
The Final Words (Conclusion)
No matter how you put it, these ten safety guidelines will help you stay safe from the bad guys as much as possible, or at least make it as hard for them to victimize you that they’re likely to move on to another target. Just like everywhere else in life, exercise your best judgment when using public Wi-Fi networks or hotspots and always assume that connecting through one is not secure (unless you’re 100% convinced of the opposite).