Before You Use the Public Wi-Fi, Read This

Is public Wi-Fi safe? Hell, no. But there are steps you can take.
Before You Use the Public Wi-Fi, Read This
Image credit: Getty Images/Hero Images
  • ---Shares
This story appears in the November 2016 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
Free Webinar | August 16th

Find out how to optimize your website to give your customers experiences that will have the biggest ROI for your business. Register Now »

Is public Wi-Fi safe? The short answer: Hell, no. But if you must use the free wireless at your hotel or the satellite office (i.e., Starbucks), here are some precautions you should take.

Keep it impersonal. Never online-bank via public wi-fi. Obvious, right? But you shouldn’t even check email -- that can give hackers access to a trove of personal info. This applies even to secure websites, those with https (hypertext transfer protocol secure) in the URL. “Public hotspots are susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks” -- where the hacker intercepts communications -- “which will strip out the ‘secure’ part of https,” warns David Lee, a product manager for mobile at security software company Norton.

Related: 5 No-Brainer Tips to Avoid Getting Hacked

Beware fake networks. Check the network name with the staff of wherever you’re working. “You might see ‘Free-Starbucks-wifi,’ but this could easily be a fake,” says Jérôme Segura, a lead malware intelligence analyst at internet security software maker Malwarebytes. You’d be able to get online like everything was normal, except all your traffic would be visible to prying eyes.

Turn off sharing. Your device’s sharing function is designed to be used in a collaborative work environment, making it easy to let other computers on the same network access your files -- something you definitely do not want on public wi-fi. When you disable sharing, it makes your phone or laptop invisible to others, and thus a less likely target.

Get your own network. Install virtual personal network (VPN) software, which establishes an encrypted tunnel for your internet traffic. But VPNs aren’t invulnerable, so you should stick to using https websites (which, sigh, still won’t guarantee safety). Also, look for a VPN that offers an anti-malware scanner and a mobile app.

Related: 7 Ways to Shop Safely on Your Mobile

Use your phone. You can use your smartphone as a hotspot for your laptop (it’s called tethering), which offers a secure connection. It does have a couple of downsides, though: First, you’re at the mercy of your carrier’s performance and data rates. Second, the websites you’re looking at know who you are and what device you’re using, whereas a VPN will make you completely anonymous.

Edition: July 2017

Get the Magazine

Limited-Time Offer: 1 Year Print + Digital Edition and 2 Gifts only $9.99
Subscribe Now
OK

This website uses cookies to allow us to see how our website and related online services are being used. By continuing to use this website, you consent to our cookie collection. More information about how we collect cookies is found here.