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Why You Really Need to Stop Using Public Wi-Fi

Deanna Rubano

July 25, 2017

In today’s hectic world, convenience seems to outweigh consequence, especially with how people use their mobile devices. Using free public Wi-Fi networks, for example, comes with any number of serious security risks, yet surveys show that the overwhelming majority of Americans do it anyway. In a study by privatewifi.com, a whopping three-quarters of people admitted to connecting to their personal email while on public Wi-Fi.

It isn’t hard to see that a few moments of online convenience are far outweighed by your money or financial information being stolen, or by suffering the embarrassment of your personal information being publicly released. According to a recent opinion poll, more people are leery of public Wi-Fi networks than of public toilet seats (a promising sign).   But an interesting survey conducted at the 2016 Republican and Democratic National Conventions, showed attendees’ true colors. At each convention, private entities provided visitors with free public Wi-Fi networks (for social science purposes). Around 70% of people connected to the nonsecure Wi-Fi networks at both conference.

 For mobile devices, the harm is digital: the theft of your personal data, such as passwords, financial information, or private pictures or videos. You’re rolling the dice every time you log on to a free network in a coffee shop, hotel lobby, or airport lounge.

What is the best way to protect yourself against these kinds of Wi-Fi threats? Although antivirus protection and firewalls are essential methods of cyber defense, they are useless against hackers on unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Consider the following seven security tips to keep prying eyes out of your devices:

·        Don’t use public Wi-Fi to shop online, log in to your financial institution, or access other sensitive sites — ever

·        Use a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, to create a network-within-a-network, keeping everything you do encrypted

·        Implement two-factor authentication when logging into sensitive sites, so even if malicious individuals have the passwords to            your bank, social media, or email, they won’t be able to log in

·        Only visit websites with HTTPS encryption when in public places, as opposed to lesser-protected HTTP addresses

·        Turn off the automatic Wi-Fi connectivity feature on your phone, so it won’t automatically seek out hotspots

·        Monitor your Bluetooth connection when in public places to ensure others are not intercepting your transfer of data

·        Buy an unlimited data plan for your device and stop using public Wi-Fi altogether

The more you take your chances with a free network connection, the greater the likelihood that you will suffer some type of security breach. There is a saying in the cybersecurity industry that there are three types of people in the world: those who have been hacked, those who will be hacked, and those who are being hacked right now and just don’t know it yet. The better you protect yourself, the greater your chances of minimizing the potential damage. Remember: Falling victim to public Wi-Fi’s dangers is a question of when, not if.

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