How can I use public Wi-Fi safely?

Use public Wi-Fi safely
Follow these tips to put snoopers off the scent

Whether it’s in an airport, train carriage, coffee shop or atop Mount Fuji, public Wi-Fi is a brilliant service. However, using it brings security risks, from hoovering up your login details to sharing information you’d rather keep private. Here’s how to use public Wi-Fi safely.

Be cautious

The best piece of advice we can give is simple: be sensible. If you can avoid it, don’t do any internet banking on public Wi-Fi or access any other sensitive information. It may sound a pinch condescending, but the force of habit is strong: you might find yourself instinctively opening your banking app without event thinking about the security of the Wi-Fi. As millions of grandparents around the UK would say, “better safe than sorry”.

Weigh up your options

Hunt for Wi-Fi in an airport, say, and you’ll have a smorgasbord of options – as well as the main, and potentially dodgy, Airport Wi-Fi. It’s worth taking your phone or laptop on a magical mystery tour around various coffee shops, restaurants and pubs to try to find the smallest-scale public Wi-Fi you can: not only is this likely to more reliable, you can also check if it’s real (see “If in doubt, verify” below).

Similarly, if something looks even slightly suspect (think “Free-Starbux–Wifi” or “genuine_london_wifi_hotspot”) avoid it like the digital plague.

Give phoney details

We’ve all been drawn in by the promise of free public Wi-Fi – only to find that you have to enter your name, address, date of birth, blood type, allergies and so on. Avoid giving away your precious data by tapping in a fake name and address. It doesn’t even need to be creative: Joe Bloggs of 123 Fake Avenue has served me well over the years, bless him.

If in doubt, verify

Asking “do you have Wi-Fi?” or “is [insert name of network here] yours?” may garner a strange look from staff, but could save you a lot of angst in the long-run. After all, there’s nothing to stop someone setting up a bogus network, with a very slightly different name, to catch people out.

Turn off Wi-Fi

Does your phone ever buzz randomly while you’re wandering around the town or out shopping? It could be – successfully – re-connecting to public Wi-Fi networks you’ve used in the past. This is a potentially hazardous situation as you could easily think you’re accessing personal information via 4G, while actually broadcasting it over open Wi-Fi. The easy solution is to turn off Wi-Fi completely when you’re not using it.

Use a browser privacy tool

There are numerous browser plugins and mobile apps that promise to block invisible trackers and allow you to use public Wi-Fi more safely. One of the best plugins is Disconnect, which lets you see the websites attempting to capture personal information and keeps you safe via a built-in VPN. A free version is available for the Samsung browser, Google Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Opera, but if you want support then you’ll need to pay $35.99 per year.

READ NEXT: How can I secure my Facebook account?

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About the author

Max Figgett

Max has written for numerous websites and magazines over the years. Whether it’s about ancient hardware or software secrets, no Big Tech Question is too obscure for him to tackle.

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