Is it Safe to Use Free Public Wi-Fi?

It's fall and conferences are ramping up.  You’re traveling and have just checked into your hotel room to sign into the Wi-Fi using the password supplied by the front desk.  Now you want to head out to the hotel gym.  Only 30 seconds later, you decide to quickly check your email on your phone.  Then, your tablet to check your bank account balance to finally buy that couch you were hoping would go on sale at Wayfair.  You get prompted to connect to Wi-Fi again, but it does not ask for user id or password.  Is it safe?

Although no Wi-Fi connection is going to be completely secure, some connections are considerably worse than others.  In the scenario above, the Wi-Fi connection in your room is much more secure than the one at the gym.  At the gym, the Wi-Fi network can easily be set up by a hacker to steal any and all information you enter.  They will often use network names that seem appropriately safe, so you connect to one such as “holidayinn.” Click, you’re hacked. 

But, in this scenario, it is probably fine to surf the web and even check your email.  However, you definitely should not enter passwords, credit cards, or any personal information.  You are just too vulnerable to a cyber attack.

There are things you can do to protect yourself against unsafe Wi-Fi networks:

  1. Use a cell connection instead of the Wi-Fi service
  2. Change the settings on your device so you do not automatically connect to any open Wi-Fi. At a hotel or restaurant, ask for the name of the Wi-Fi hotspot to make sure you are using the right one.
  3. Limit activity to just browsing online when using public Wi-Fi
  4. Keep your apps and operating system up-to-date
  5. Use a virtual private network (VPN) to provide an encrypted connection

Be smart and take these precautions with Wi-Fi.  Go ahead and hit the gym.  Get that five-mile run in and maybe even shut your phone off completely.  You might enjoy it.

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