As the digital workforce continues to expand, more people are dependent on public WiFi than ever before. Whether it’s the local coffee shop or co-working space, the availability of an internet connection wherever we go has helped foster a growing segment of remote employees.

However, that convenience can come with a potentially hefty price if you’re not focused on staying secure when connecting to 3rd party WiFi signals. In this post, we’ll discuss the best practices for keeping yourself, and your private data, secure when connecting to public WiFi.

Is Public WiFi Safe?

The short answer is no. Not unless you take additional steps to make it as safe as possible. The problem is that when you connect to Public WiFi, the information sent from your smartphone or laptop is not encrypted and is broadcast in every direction for anyone with ill-intent to collect and analyze.

To drive this point home, have a look at just how easy it is for someone to “sniff” the data that’s being sent.

Now that we understand the risks of Public WiFi, let’s find out what we can do to keep ourselves secure on these open networks.

1. Become Security Aware

Connecting to the internet is something we do every day. However, many of us don’t consider the security risks that come with that convenience. True digital security starts with becoming security aware, but what does that mean?

True security awareness starts with the understanding that (almost) anything we do these days involves connecting to the internet with our own devices, or depending on (and logging into) other devices that are connected.

Whether it’s protecting your business website from bad actors with SiteLock’s products or simply using your bank card at gas stations or ATMs, security awareness is the first step in keeping yourself, and your personal and financial data, safe.

Here’s a video of security awareness in action:

To learn more about the importance of security awareness, read this article.

2. Avoid Using Websites That Require (or display) Sensitive Data

Now that you know connecting to Public WiFi without additional security measures in place isn’t safe, it should come as no surprise that connecting to websites that require or display your personal and financial information isn’t something you should do.

These sites can include these and more:

  • Online Banking
  • Loan Accounts Websites
  • Government Websites (IRS)
  • Investment Websites (Stock Trading, Retirement Accounts)

Rather than connecting and logging into these types of websites when on Public WiFi, it’s in your best interest to do this from a more secure connection from your home or office space.

3. Choose the Correct Public Network

When you absolutely must connect to Public WiFi, you should employ your security awareness knowledge and be careful with network names. You may think you’re logging onto your local Starbucks WiFi but if you’re not paying close attention, you might be connecting to a rogue WiFi access point set up by a hacker.

Need to see an example of this? Have a look at what 7-year old Besty Davies was able to accomplish by following some simple instructions.

4. Don’t Automatically Connect

Modern smartphones have a handy feature that will automatically connect you to open WiFi networks without requiring any kind of authentication.

Is it handy for the security aware among us? No way!

If your smartphone automatically connects to public WiFi signals, you should turn that feature off immediately if you want to stay more secure. Unfortunately, with the latest updates for Apple and Android, you need to make sure you actually turn WiFi off rather than just disconnecting it for a certain period of time.

To learn how to stop your smartphone WiFi from automatically connecting to open networks, have a look at these articles:

5. Turn Off File Sharing Features (Apple AirDrop)

Have you used AirDrop on your Apple devices? It’s a very handy feature for sharing files to other iOS devices that are near you. Unfortunately, this can also pose a risk.

If you’re not careful, you could mistakenly accept a file from someone you don’t know, and that file could contain a malicious script designed to do further damage. A related and unfortunate incident recently happened to a teenage girl and several passengers on a Hawaiin Airlines flight, causing the flight to be grounded.

The plane was already taxiing the runway on Friday morning when passengers started reporting that they had received gruesome crime scene photos. The 15-year-old distributor was trying to send photos from her high school medical-biology class to her mother, but instead, sent them to several strangers on the plane.

Fortunately, there are two important settings you can use to protect your own data and to ensure you don’t make the same mistake of inadvertently sending or accepting files to or from strangers.

7. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

If you’re not familiar with what VPNs are or how to use them, have no fear. It’s one of the easiest methods to use in order to stay secure over public WiFi.

What is a Virtual Private Network?

It’s a private network that can be used while connected to a public network. It enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks over an encrypted connection, adding a very substantial layer of protection for the data in transit.

How to Find and Use a VPN Service

Fortunately, using a VPN is pretty simple. It’s just a program installed on your laptop or an app installed on your smartphone or tablet. After installation, when you connect to a WiFi network, most (if not all) of these VPN apps prompt you to enable your Virtual Private Network before connecting.

There are many VPN services available. Many come with a free tier and others are only paid. You’ll just need to do a simple Google search to find one that works for you.

We hope you’ve found that staying secure on public WiFi is both important, and easy to do by following a few simple security awareness steps. If you’d like to learn more about how partnering with SiteLock can keep your website secure, you can learn more about our award-winning security products here.