Whether you’re connecting to the Wi-Fi network at a hostel in Berlin, a luxury hotel in Bangkok or your local Starbuck’s, chances are you’re on an “unsecured” wireless network. So, what does this mean?
It means that someone near you, if they have certain software, can potentially view everything you’re sending and receiving - emails, text messages, usernames and passwords you entered, the websites you’re viewing and more. So, what can you do to keep yourself protected?
Here’s 5 tips to keeping your public Wi-Fi use secure and away from prying eyes.
Use a VPN - one of the best ways to protect your data is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN encrypts the internet traffic (the data you’re sending and receiving) and makes it unreadable to anyone around you - regardless of the software they’re using. There are many services that offer a VPN for a modest fee. I have used the Private Internet Access app for the last several years. I feel it’s been very effective. They charge $39.95 annually and allow their service to be added to multiple devices. VPNs offer a number of other benefits that you can read about. See the recent CNET article titled The Best VPN Services of 2019. Another way to encrypt your internet traffic is using websites that utilize SSL connections. These are websites that begin with https://
Use messaging apps with end-to-end encryption - keep your text messages from being viewed by others by using apps that encrypt your messages. The best apps for this are iPhone’s iMessages and WhatsApp. Note that in Facebook Messenger, only “secret messages” are encrypted - not regular messages.
Use a cellular connection, such as 4G, instead of an unsecured, public Wi-Fi network when visiting a site where sensitive information might be entered - cellular networks (i.e. Verizon) are generally more secure than a public Wi-Fi network (i.e. Starbuck’s).
Verify that you’re using the correct network. Do not use a WiFi “honeypot” - a honeypot is an internet network (created by some unscrupulous person) that has a very similar network name (i.e. Miami Airport free wifi) to a legitimate public Wi-Fi (i.e. Miami International Airport Wi-Fi). By connecting to the honeypot, you are allowing that person access to your internet traffic and potentially to your device. When turning on your device’s Wi-Fi setting, make sure you connect to the correct network. Ask the Starbuck’s server or the hotel’s front desk if you’re unsure.
Do NOT use a public computer for anything sensitive - Most hotels have a couple of computers for their guests’ use. You should not use these computers to access your bank, credit cards, etc. Even though these websites use SSL (as discussed above), someone (probably unbeknownst to the hotel) could have loaded a program (called a key logger program) on the computer that logs each keystroke you make. As a result, they would know what websites you accessed and any usernames, passwords you entered when using them.