Public WiFi hotspots can be incredibly convenient, especially for those who are constantly working on the go. From coffee shops to doctor’s offices, free WiFi is becoming increasingly common and easy to access. However, this convenience comes with security risks for smartphones, tablets, and laptops.
The risks of public WiFi
Any data sent through public WiFi can easily be intercepted. Devices without proper security measures risk giving access to the user’s personal information, digital identity, and even money. If the device does not have strong antivirus software, then a long-term infection is an even greater concern.
The largest and most common threat is the attacker getting between you and the WiFi network. All the information your device sends via the internet will be sent directly to the attacker, and then relayed to the WiFi. Once the hacker is working from this setup, they will have access to all the information that is sent through that connection: emails, credit card numbers, security credentials, and possibly more.
Another risk is receiving malware. If your computer allows unsecured file sharing, attacks can place dangerous malware directly into your device. They may also utilize fake pop-up ads, false updates, and more.
How to stay safe on public WiFi
Now that you know the risks, you need to know how to avoid them. Here are a few points to keep in mind.
- Only connect to WiFi networks you trust. Some hackers will establish fake WiFi points for the purpose of attacking devices that connect. Only connect to WiFi networks you are sure about.
- Don’t click on suspicious links or pop-ups. Hackers can send false alerts to your computer, claiming the system requires an update or something similar. Clicking on these links or pop-ups will usually download malware to your device.
- Turn off file sharing. Many devices will allow file sharing with nearby devices on the same network. Turn this setting off when on public WiFi to prevent attackers from being able to see your files or place malware.
- Use a VPN. VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are a useful security feature in any situation, but they are especially beneficial when using public connections. VPNs will, among other things, encrypt data sent over the internet to make it unreadable if it’s intercepted. If you want to learn more about VPNs, check out this article.
- Use mobile data if necessary. If you need to connect to a service with sensitive information, consider switching to mobile data. This is oftentimes the safest way to access private information (such as bank accounts) while in public.
- Maintain strong cybersecurity software. Reliable antivirus software is absolutely essential for keeping your devices secure. Not just for computers, antivirus protection is important for mobile devices as well. Be sure to regularly check for updates to receive protection from the latest threats. If you’re unsure what software to use, take a look at this article for some helpful suggestions.