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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.
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.
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