Public Wi-Fi May be Free But it Comes With a Price
June 2024
Public Wi-Fi May be Free But it Comes With a Price

Practically everyone uses public Wi-Fi. Most coffee shops, restaurants, gyms, planes, airports, and hotels offer it. It’s convenient and free. But the reality is, it comes with a price. Because when you use public Wi-Fi, you’re much more exposed to getting hacked, having your personal info stolen and your devices being infected with viruses.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been hacked via public Wi-Fi. Hackers regularly use open Wi-Fi networks to commit identity theft and fraud.

But the good news is that there are five easy steps you can take to make public Wi-Fi safer.

How hackers steal your identity

But first, how do hackers abuse public Wi-Fi? The three most common ways are:

1. A “Man in the Middle” attack

An outside entity intercepts communication between two systems. If a hacker’s connected to a network where multiple users are also connected, they can intercept communications between users and the public Wi-Fi router and see all incoming and outgoing data.

2. File sharing

If you have file sharing enabled while on a public network, hackers can send you files infected with malware. So, if you get a mysterious file, don’t open it!

3. Fake hotspots

Hackers often set up fake but legitimate-looking Wi-Fi connections, essentially setting a trap for the unknowing public. Once someone connects, online thieves can access all their files and info.

5 ways to safely use public Wi-Fi

Is it safe to use Wi-Fi in a hotel, coffee shop, or airport? If you take the following steps, then yes.

1. Use a VPN

The most important way to protect yourself is with a VPN (virtual private network). This makes public internet connections safer by encrypting all your data traffic through a ‘virtual tunnel’, masking your IP address and all file transfers. This helps prevent malware attacks and also makes your online behavior more anonymous.

Can VPN work with Wi-Fi? Yes! An added benefit is that while using VPN on a public Wi-Fi, your computer’s IP address will not appear to be in that public space, increasing your privacy.

2. Only use encrypted and secured networks

Encrypted, secured networks are always the safest option. The most common encryption types are WPA, WAP2, WAP3, and WEP. If the Wi-Fi you are trying to use requires a password, that means it is a ‘secured network’.

When searching for a network, a lock icon indicates the network is secure.

You can find out which encryption type a network you are using has by going to your network preferences, then ‘advanced’.

Network Preferences screenshot

In this example, the Wi-Fi networks ‘Schaedel.b’ and ‘COUNTRY INN!’ do not have a security type.

If you must use an unencrypted, unsecured network, be sure to sign into VPN straight away and keep your website visits to a minimum. Make an effort to avoid sites that require login or personal info. Keep in mind that when you visit https:// websites, those connections are already encrypted while https:// websites aren’t encrypted.

3. Verify the network

Does the network name make sense to you? Does it match your location? To be extra safe, ask an employee to verify the name of the right network.

4. Don’t view personal info or online shop

While using public Wi-Fi, don’t check your bank accounts, credit reports or online shop. A thief could steal your personal data over public Wi-Fi…or by looking over your shoulder.

5. Be careful with Bluetooth

Because Bluetooth allows connections between devices, using it in public is risky. “Bluebugging” is a scamming technique hackers use to intercept your signal to access your phone.

IDShield & Trend Micro

IDShield is one of the world’s leading identity theft prevention services. We’ve partnered with Trend Micro to help protect your online safety. We offer VPN Proxy One protection, virus scanning for your computer and phone, dark web monitoring of your personal info, best in class credit monitoring, personal data monitoring, privacy and reputation management and a highly qualified team of professionals at your service if anything ever goes wrong.

Sign up today for either 1 or 3 credit bureau monitoring plus one-on-one consultation—all your questions will be answered.