Here’s How to Protect Yourself When Using Public Wi-Fi

Whenever there is free Wi-Fi, we want to automatically connect our phones, laptops, and computers to the service the company provides for us. However, there is a catch.

Most public places do not protect themselves against hackers and cybercriminals. This leads to many public Wi-Fi users having valuable information stolen from them. So, how can you protect yourself when you are out and about using the free Internet?

  1. Be aware of what you are doing.
  2. Take precautions when logging into Wi-Fi links in the first place.
  3. Make sure to verify that it is a legitimate address. 
  4. Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network).
  5. Consider using your mobile phone’s data.
  6. Avoid using specific websites
  7. Protect your device against any cyberattacks.

We will be going more in-depth on how to take these precautionary measures. Not only that, but this article will discuss what to not do while using public Wi-Fi. 

Keep in mind that your safety is more important than the convenience of using something for free in the first place. Although it says that it is “free,” 

it may end up costing you a lot. 

What Are The Two Types Of Wi-Fi?

Traditionally speaking, there are two types of Wi-Fi available, secured and obviously unsecured, the latter of which is the kind you will find in public places, and is easily accessible with no password, while the other one that is given out to everyone upon entry of the said building, or providing some kind of identification that entitles them to the Wi-Fi service.

Secured: 

A truly secure connection to Wi-Fi has a password protecting it from people with ill-intent gaining access and potentially breaching the security and privacy of those connected to it.

Utilizing a secured connection will make sure your private information is both: 

  1. Safe and secure.
  2. It makes it considerably harder for anyone to do anything malicious to you over the connection and have some sort of failsafe involved in the entire process.

Even though the password to the connection might be accessible to other people who have access to the service itself, there is some level of accountability taken into account. 

So if a breach were to occur, it could be traced back to the number of people who had registered access to the connection in the first place. 

Unsecured: 

This is the kind of connection you might find readily available at a local restaurant or even a library. It will be any place where Wi-Fi is offered, but no password is required. Just simply click and play logic. 

This kind of connection opens you up to any and all manner of cyberattacks because nothing is standing between you and anyone else utilizing the connection. Hypothetically speaking, people could steal many things. These being;

  • Your account ID.
  • Passwords.
  • See what sites you visited on the link.
  • Directly upload malware to your device, with you being none the wiser.

Even if you have access to these kinds of connections, it simply is not wise to use them due to how much of a risk it is and how little you gain. 

Something as simple as logging in to not eat your data to check Facebook opens you up to someone seeing all your information on Facebook or another form of social media. They can potentially blackmail you with something they have gleaned from your brief visit.

If this is the case, then you might as well wait until you are home to check your messages or get more data on your phone. 

How To Protect Myself Using Public Wi-Fi?

Now that we know what can happen when you use public Wi-Fi, what can we do to protect ourselves if we need to use it? Better yet, how can we ensure that we don’t leak extra information in the small exposures we do open ourselves up to? The answer to all these questions and more are going to be below!

1. Be Aware Of What You Do

While you are connected to the public connection, anything you do can be stored and used for later entry, and connecting the dots to what you are doing isn’t altogether difficult. 

Here is a fine example of what we mean down below:

You hopped onto your social media account and made plans with a friend. However, you ended the message with, “We will decide where to go; I gotta check my bank and see what I can afford.” 

A hacker would know you are typing in a random password along with that timeframe that might just be your bank account and password. 

A hacker can use any action you take during your temporary connection against you. As such, it’s wise to never type passwords, access any critical information, or open any link or site that can expose personal information about yourself to others.

2. Take Precautionary Measures When Logging Into Wi-Fi Links

Assuming you absolutely must log in to a public Wi-Fi connection. Do yourself a service and log out of any applications you are running or sites you frequently go to. Do not re-log into them until you are on a private network again. 

This could be many things: your social media account, bank app, stock trading app, simple games that have your credit card information stored, google account, email, etc. Anything you deem necessary should be logged out of and closed. 

The primary reason you would want to go to these lengths is that you make the process of gaining access to your sensitive information that much more difficult but keep in mind it still isn’t impossible. 

Suppose you utilize anything that saves your passwords by default or keeps a notepad open with all your passwords for easy access. In that case, you are also giving the intruder the same benefit.

3. Verify That It Is A Legitimate Address

When choosing to connect to a local Wi-Fi network, users may set up traps for people who aren’t paying attention and easily prey upon them. These users would have an open link available with a name very close to what the original maybe. 

For example, you are trying to access the network (StarbucksWiFi). You then notice there are a few different connections like (Starbucks WiF1) or something similar. Understand those could be people lying in wait for you to not pay attention. 

The same understanding goes for clicking on links that may appear. At the same time, you are connected to said network, requesting additional access. These might appear as reputable businesses, with another slight difference to the source, lending credibility to those who aren’t avidly reading what is being requested.

4. Use A VPN (Virtual Private Network)

Utilizing a VPN and knowing the benefits of using one assumes you know what a VPN is. To begin with, we’ll save you the hassle and quickly define it before moving on. 

A VPN is a virtual private network that encrypts your data, masking it to anyone who wants to get a quick view. It also hides your IP address (which is the fixed location you are connecting from geographically). It then sends it through many servers, miles, states, or even countries depending away.

Using a VPN makes it incredibly difficult for hackers to gain any information on you. This is thanks to the amount of data encryption and IP bouncing involved. Not only that, but most of these criminals are already looking for the easy victim in the first place. 

Given that information, any additional steps involved past the norm would make you a hassle to deal with and potentially deemed not worth the effort.

5. Consider Using Your Mobile Phone’s Data Instead

If you are in a situation where you need to use the Internet or send a message, using your phone plan’s built-in data is the much wiser choice.

The reason you would want to use this connection over a public one boils down to the same logic as any other statement listed here, security. When using your phone data, your information is coming and going through our cell phone provider’s encryption. It is protected in that way from outside sources. 

While not all phone service providers offer incredibly sophisticated protection, it is a layer that isn’t ordinarily accessible to anyone outside your provider and yourself. This gives you the relief that you have much less of a chance of a data breach due to the phone line.

One other thing to keep in mind is that if your phone service has a plan with unlimited data, it would be wise to upgrade phone plans if applicable. In doing so, you will ensure protection over yourself. 

6. Avoid Using Specific Websites

While you are making use of public Wi-Fi, there are a handful of sites to avoid making yourself a prime candidate for information targeting attempts. 

While some of these are more obvious than others, the common trend is avoiding areas that handle data and data unique or valuable to you personally. 

These sites would include personal information sites like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, or any other social media outlet, and sites with your financial credentials secured in some capacity. 

Websites like this might range from small phone games where you utilize microtransactions to your bank app, PayPal, uber eats, and the like. Just be wary of the possibility of being hacked there and act accordingly.

7. Protect Your Device Against Any Cyberattacks

You can’t get safer than having your phone off entirely. There are quite a few cybersecurity apps available in today’s age that can help stem the tide of these unsolicited visitors to a large degree. 

The list is extensive and too many to get each of them down. Still, some of the more prominent names in the mobile security industry would be companies like Kaspersky Mobile Antivirus, McAfee Mobile Security, Bitdefender Mobile Security, especially. 

The last one has stellar reviews in its ability to protect you from cyberattacks and malware invasions and offers one of the most dynamic packages available. Still, you will have to invest in it because there isn’t a free version available from them currently. 

What All Should I Remember?

There are plenty of things that you should and should not do when coming on public Wi-Fi. While we have gone over a staggering amount of them, we will break them down intricately below.

1. Always Link Your Device To A Secure Account 

Linking your device to a secured account with an intricate password makes it harder to access your credentials and adds a layer of defense to the equation most people lack.

Another form of this would be adding two-factor authentication to any platforms available and delving deeper into what security options your phone offers natively.

2. Guarantee Your Data’s Safety By Disabling Automatic Connectivity

While you might think this is a no-brainer, you’d be surprised by the lifestyle some people choose to live just for creature comforts. 

Turning this feature off ensures you do not get any unwanted intrusions when visiting new locations and can stop you from being attacked while driving around or walking through crowded plazas. 

If opening yourself up for just one attack at a single location seems risky, imagine your horror if your phone continually did it. Think about it being non-stop, all day, to every connection you went past long enough for a connection to be established.

3. Watch For Suspicious Bluetooth Activity, Or Turn It Off Entirely

Functioning on the same train of thought as automatic connectivity, but not everyone can connect the dots as to why turning this off would be wise from a security perspective. 

The short and sweet of this means that Bluetooth allows any compatible devices within range to communicate with one another. In turn, it would leave you wide open for a capable hacker to take advantage of.

The only time it is plausible to have Bluetooth on would be when you are in a safe and secure location. These are places like your home, a friend’s house (debatable), or your office (again suspicious). 

Ideally, you want to work with the understanding there is no place like home, but clicking the Bluetooth option is all you need to do to feel safe again.

Final Thoughts

Personal accountability in all of your choices will highly affect just how safe you are from cyber attacks. This will both be from public Wi-Fi interactions and your daily usage at home. 

It is relatively sad to say, but the biggest threat to your own cybersecurity is yourself. This is because most of these scams, malware, and other encounters rely heavily on user error to occur in the first place.

Taking this information into account, mitigate the possibility of being a victim by cutting off your connection to public places that don’t require a password to log in. Whatever you stand to gain by accessing the network is not, nor will it ever be, worth it.

Disabling automatic features and connectivity options on your phone will make things slightly more annoying for your daily life but infinitely more secure by the same effort. 

Not only this but take your time and turn off any apps you don’t plan on using when you are putting your phone away. Any open applications eat bandwidth and can serve as a connection between you and a potential hacker. 

Hopefully, the information provided here will keep you just a bit safer in your online experiences and get you more knowledgeable on what to do while out and how to defend yourself from cyber attacks.

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