Can I be safe when using public Wi-Fi hotspots?
That’s a question that troubles a good number of internet users although most people have no clue on why they should be worried about safety when using public WiFi.
Either way, you should know how devastating cyber attacks can be.
On larger scales, they can result in data breaches that compromise personal data belonging to millions of people.
On a smaller scale, your personal data can be used for identity theft and intimate images and video uploaded to the internet shredding your privacy fabric to the slightest thread.
In the current digital era, cyber-attacks are recorded at unprecedented numbers. One study found that computers receive 2244 cyber attacks per day.
So, when using public Wi-fi, minding your device security should be at the top of your mind. Public Wi-Fi’s are favorite channels for cybercriminals. You should be concerned about how to be safe on public WiFi.
In this guide, I’ll take you through 10 tips for staying safe on public WiFi networks in 2021.
Let’s dive in.
1. Use Authentic Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi Fi hotspots are available in many urban centres and around institutions.
So it is very easy to come across one and just connect to check your email, messages or browse the internet.
What you might not know is that predators and cyber criminals create fake public networks to prey on unsuspecting individuals. These networks can have names similar to authentic WiFi networks.
If you’re not careful, you will fall prey to them.
Want to know how to stay safe on public WiFi?
For a start, always use password protected WiFi. By doing so, you force yourself to inquire with an authorised person who will ensure that you connect to a genuine host.
This also applies when using unprotected WiFi. Enquire with an authorised personnel to help you identify the authentic WiFi hotspot before you connect.
That’s one way on how to be safe on public WiFi.
2. Secure Your Device With Antivirus
Your device’s security should be your first priority whenever you connect to the internet, not just public Wi-Fi. The internet is filled with cybercriminals creating malware and launching attacks on users in a bid to defraud them.
Meanwhile, just because you’ve connected to an authentic WiFi network does not mean you’re entirely safe. An attacker in the network can compromise your device if it’s not properly protected.
So this is how to stay safe on public WiFi networks.
Start by installing an effective antivirus before ever connecting to a public Wi Fi.
An antivirus identifies and removes malware from the internet before it infects your device. With a good AI-powered antivirus installed on your device, you’ll be protected from any traditional or new antiviruses on the internet
Think of it as the bodyguard who protects you from any incoming threats when you visit public places.
3. Install A VPN
A virtual private network prevents others from seeing your internet activities. It offers the most secure and private means of accessing the Internet.
If you have no choice but to use public WiFi and wish to know how to stay safe on public WiFi, a VPN is your go-to solution.
But how really does it work?
Essentially, a VPN takes all your internet traffic and encrypts it using VPN protocol into ‘gibberish’ before transporting it through a secure tunnel to a VPN server which then connects to the internet.
If an attacker even manages to intercept your internet traffic, they will find no meaning in your encrypted data because they cannot decipher the message.
In addition, the VPN disguises your identity and location by using the VPN server as the origin of your internet traffic.
If you’re serious about how to stay safe on public Wi-Fi, here are some of the best VPNs in the market that won’t compromise on speed.
This is one of the most important tips for staying safe on public WiFi networks.
4. Only Browse Encrypted Websites
There are two main types of websites: those that use HTTPS and others that use HTTP.
HTTP is an unsecured Internet protocol for fetching and transmitting data across the internet, while HTTPS is more so the secured version of HTTP.
The challenge with using HTTP websites is that any data you send through the site can be intercepted and read.
Now considering you want to use a public WiFi that could potentially have cyber criminals lurking in there, you wouldn’t want to send sensitive data such as credit card details.
So to know how to stay safe on public WiFi networks, only access websites with HTTPS or a lock symbol in their addresses.
With such websites, all your transactions to and fro the site is encrypted and not accessible to third parties.
This added layer of security is especially useful in protecting you from websites that contain phishing links that pop up on screens as important updates when using public Wi-Fi.
5. Turn-off File Sharing
File Sharing is a handy feature especially for groups of people working together on a common agenda.
Colleagues can browse and access large files with ease and collaborate conveniently as long as it is done on a secure network.
But if you have the file-sharing option on when accessing public Wi-Fi, your folders will be accessible to anyone connected to the same network.
An attacker needs not to have any hacking skills to access your unguarded files. A simple search through the network gives them access to all your data; photos, private videos, contracts, and tax information, etc.
So one of the most effective tips of how to stay safe on public WiFi networks is to turn off file sharing on your device whenever you want to access public Wi-Fi.
In doing so, you safeguard your files from access by other people, not just hackers.
6. Monitor Your Bluetooth Connectivity
In public Wi Fi networks, Bluetooth connections can be vulnerable to immediate points of access for data access and identity theft.
Some of the most common types of attacks include
- Bluebugging – where an attacker gains an authorised access to a wireless device via bluetooth connection.
- Bluesnarfing – where an attacker exploits your Bluetooth connection to steal information from your device
- Bluejacking – where an attacker searches for any discoverable devices on public WiFi and sends spam in the form of a text message or an email similar to phishing email.
Turning your Bluetooth connection off when you’re using Wi-Fi networks is one of the best ways of how to stay safe when connected to public WiFi.
This step alone protects you from 100% of all Bluetooth-based cyber attacks possible.
And if you have to use Bluetooth while using WiFi networks, make sure you can monitor the activities of Bluetooth devices around you that are connected to your device through Bluetooth.
7. Keep Firewall Enabled
A firewall’s main job is to monitor incoming and outgoing network traffic. Essentially, it is a security layer that safeguards your internet access.
Firewall will protect your device but not entirely from all malicious content.
Yet it is still a crucial element of security you need. It acts as a barrier against data based malware and monitors data so as to prevent any suspicious data packets.
Often, people turn off firewalls due to annoying notifications and common restrictions when accessing websites considered risky by firewalls e.g. peer-to-peer downloading platforms, or torrents.
The problem arises when they forget about it completely and connect to a public WiFi hotspot without activating their firewall, hence exposing their device to data based malware.
If you want to know how to stay safe when connected to public WiFi, always keep your firewall enabled when accessing the internet.
8. Don’t Give Out Too Much Information.
When signing up for public WiFi access, you’ll often be required to submit details such as your phone number, email addresses and other details.
Enterprises do these to be able to recognise you across multiple hotspots and tailor their marketing according to your preferences. So you have to decide whether the trade-off is worth it for some free internet access.
Nevertheless, to learn how to stay safe when connected to public WiFi, you should find ways to limit how much information you have to share.
For instance, consider a common email security practice of using an alternative email address that isn’t your primary.
This keeps your private email sacred and lets a miscellaneous email take all the heat of relentless marketing campaigns that exists in today’s digital world.
Secondly, if you can get connected to a service that you are already registered for, it is better to use it across your different devices than to register in multiple WiFi networks.
That’s how to stay safe on public WiFi networks by limiting information output.
9. Check What You’re Signing Up For
Besides being concerned about information that public WiFi services require you to provide, you also need to pay attention to the terms and conditions of service.
You don’t have to always comprehend every word but being eager enough to spot red flags especially on the kind of data they collect from your session and how they use it, is necessary.
Often, these businesses submit users’ data to 5 eyes countries and other marketing corporations. So be prepared to have your privacy violated.
In addition, a quick search should bring up known issues of the Wi-Fi connections that other users have experienced before.
If you see more complaints than compliments, that’s a WiFi connection you should avoid.
Lastly, don’t just click any popup notifications from the WiFi service. It’s always best to ignore them. And if they ask you to install an additional software or browser extension to access the network, run.
10. Use Two Factor Authentication
2FA is a security feature that requires you to provide two pieces of information to log into an account.
The first piece is something you know e.g. your password while the second piece is something you have access to e.g a passcode sent to your phone number.
In the wake of the increased cybersecurity threats many popular websites have begun offering two factor authentication. Gmail for instance will send a 6-digit code to your phone which you have to input to access your account.
One principle you must remember is that you can never be fully secure. Cyber criminals are using advanced tools to find loopholes and exploit them for their own advantage.
For your protection, you need to know how to stay safe on public WiFi networks and adding a 2FA security layer makes your accounts more secure.
If by any chance a hacker still gains access to your data despite implementing all other security tips, a 2FA feature will stop them on their tracks when trying to access your accounts.
Hence, whenever you are accessing any popular websites ensure your 2FA feature is on for maximum protection.
Public WiFi connections can be instrumental in our daily digital activities by providing free access to the internet which has become almost a basic necessity for most people.
Nevertheless, the risks we expose ourselves to by indiscriminately accessing any public WiFi service could cost us much more.
The tips for staying safe on public wifi networks, we have discussed, will go a long way to protect you from cybercriminals and malware.
Bear in mind also that cyber attacks are becoming more complex with the help of advanced technology such as AI. So, the more measures you take to protect yourself, the more secure you’ll be.
At the very least, have a reliable VPN to safeguard your privacy.
Cyber security is a robust discipline that requires active investment of time and resources to achieve maximum protection.