6 Ways to Stay Safe Online When Using Public WiFi

Thursday, 13 December 2018

6 Ways to Stay Safe Online When Using Public WiFi

Posted by Rahul Gupta
You’re sitting in your doctor’s waiting room. Or the airport. Maybe your partner is trying on clothes and you’re bored. There are so many things you can do while you’re waiting. Pay some bills, check your email, buy something online.

If your wireless plan has limited data, there’s a great incentive to surf on a public network. Using public WiFi is so easy. It’s also so dangerous. It’s like leaving your wallet with your credit cards, cash, and license on the dashboard of an unlocked car.
Stay Safe Online When Using Public WiFi
The problem with using public WiFi is the complete lack of security. In a crowded public venue, identity thieves can hide in plain sight. Maybe trained law enforcement can spot them, but ordinary citizens usually can’t tell the difference between a hacker and a guy just waiting for his girlfriend.

There are several ways to stay safe online when using public WiFi. Most of our recommendations don’t cost a dime. The most reliable option is likely cheaper than eating up your monthly data allotment.

Just (Don’t) Do It

The easiest option is not to use public WiFi. If your online activities are data-heavy on a limited data plan, this could be an expensive choice. Go through your usage over the past few months. You may not use as much of your data allotment as you think.

Our family was shocked to learn that four people and five devices were eating up less than half of our available 10GB a month. If your usage is high, consider spending a few dollars more to upgrade your data plan. This will leave a buffer, so you don’t go over the data limit.

Common Sense Is Not So Common

You may roll your eyes at this advice, but how many times have you punched in security codes and passwords without covering the screen? Or checked your bank balance. If the person sitting next to you is looking for a target and sees you have a healthy amount in your checking account, he may follow you out to the parking lot.

We recommend not logging into financial accounts while using public WiFi. To not access these accounts in any public setting – even if you’re using your mobile service – is a better idea.

Learn Not to Share

When you’re heading out the door, turn off WiFi. One reason is that if you logged into a public network in the past, it would log in automatically the next time you’re within range. I didn’t realize that every time I walked into my gym, it was logging me into their WiFi.

You can deselect the option to automatically login to these networks in your device settings. But it may be easier to turn WiFi off when you don’t need it. While you’re at it, turn off device and file sharing. I was seriously shocked to see how many people around me at the gym came up on my list of available devices to share with. Which means I’m showing up on their list, too.

The Latest and Greatest

When you’re asked to update your operating system, get it done. There are likely security patches that address vulnerabilities. Saving few minutes to download and install the latest and greatest version is worth the increased protection. You may also get some cool bells and whistles in the update.

Your Own Private Idaho

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is the safest way to be online when using public WiFi. A VPN is like a secure tunnel. Your data is encrypted as it moves from your device over the network. You will be using the VPN vendor’s servers. A VPN also allows you to surf anonymously. It hides your real IP address and replaces it with a VPN IP address. You can even choose to use a server on the VPN’s network located in a different country. This will also allow you to access restricted content. No one will know it’s you.

A free VPN is not a good idea. They tend not to be as robust as paid versions. If your budget is tight, it’s worth cutting out one latte a week to pay for a high-quality VPN. It will cost far less than having your identity stolen. Most VPN vendors offer a trial period so you can try before you buy.

An Inconvenient Truth

Staying safe while using public WiFi is sometimes inconvenient. Most of us are always in a hurry and want to take advantage of any shortcuts. There are ways of incorporating good security habits into your daily life. Turn off WiFi and file sharing before you leave the house. Install the new version of your operating system while you’re brushing your teeth. Only do your online banking at home. A little inconvenience is worth staying safe.

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