Is public Wi‑Fi safe?

Using public Wi‑Fi carries risks that most people haven’t even heard about. Here are the most common hazards and the easy solutions to staying protected on any net­work you connect to.

Is someone spying on you online?

Using public Wi‑Fi hotspots has become so commonplace that “Is there Wi‑Fi here?” is often one of the first things you say when entering a new public space. What many don’t realize, however, is that our devices are perhaps at their most vulnerable when connected to a public hotspot.

This is because when you are on a public network, your device and traffic are very vulnerable to anyone who is in the same hotspot and the hotspot owner. In essence, this means that the websites that you visit and all unencrypted information that you send can be easily seen by anyone in same café or airport lounge, and should not be considered private.

You can tell if the website you visit is unencrypted if the address in your browser begins with http://. Websites that are more secure will be encrypted, and their addresses start with https://. When you surf to a website with an address like this, other people on the hotspot will not be able to read the data, as it will appear as scrambled gibberish to them. But this does not mean that visiting only encrypted websites makes you safe on a public hotspot. Even though content is gibberish, other users/hotspot owner may still see what site or service you’re accessing.

Public Wi‑Fi risks

The nature of public Wi‑Fi networks makes it easy for hackers to steal the private data of those who are connected to them. We might think that a pass­word-protected public net­work is secure, but if the pass­word is available to anyone who asks, how could it possibly help your security? Even worse, a lot of Wi‑Fi hot­spot threats do not even require the hacker to join the network!

A common trick that hackers use is called the Evil Twin. This trick does not involve a criminal joining the same net­work as you, it involves creating a malicious hot­spot of their own. Consider this: When we join a public Wi‑Fi net­work, do we make sure that the net­work is what it says it is? If you see a hot­spot with the name of a café or the words “FREE AIRPORT WIFI”, do you think twice about joining? Criminals can set up hot­spots with innocent names using inexpensive, store-bought devices, and steal the data of everyone connecting to their so-called free Wi‑Fi.

Another very common hacking trick is called the man-in-the-middle attack. This involves a criminal on the same hot­spot inserting them­selves between you and the rest of the internet and compromising your public Wi‑Fi security. This means that when you visit your favorite online shop or online bank, the hacker may instead trick you into connecting to a page that looks similar. You might think you are entering your user­name and pass­word into a safe place, but are in fact feeding them straight to the hacker.

Is public Wi‑Fi safe?

Tips to increase your public Wi‑Fi security

All the above methods are just different ways of getting to the same thing: your data. Criminals want to get their hands on your login credentials, your credit card details, and your banking info.

As a rule, remember that unless you’re connecting to an “https” site, anything you do over public Wi‑Fi is an easy target for snooping. Avoid conducting sensitive activities over public Wi‑Fi.

Set your device to forget previously used Wi‑Fi net­works, or just turn Wi‑Fi off when you’re not using it. This will keep your device from automatically connecting to Wi‑Fi net­works that you’ve previously used when you’re not aware. As mentioned, when logging on to a new net­work, verify that it’s one you can trust.

If you want full security on public Wi‑Fi, secure your connection, and protect your traffic, a VPN is the way to go. A VPN will encrypt your connection end to end between your device and the VPN server, so your traffic can’t be spied on. The criminals on the net­work may see you’re connected to F‑Secure FREEDOME and will under­stand to give up right there.

A secure VPN is the best way to stay safe

To encrypt all your traffic and keep you safe on public Wi‑Fi, a personal VPN such as F‑Secure FREEDOME is the easiest, most secure, and most versatile solution. FREEDOME uses VPN technology to make your traffic very difficult to intercept, while other features such as browsing protection block malicious web­sites from loading. Using F‑Secure FREEDOME allows you the convenience of connecting to public Wi‑Fi, without the risk.

Protect your privacy with FREEDOME VPN