09/18/2019 | BYPOR Victoria Lee

Tips for staying secure on public Wi-Fi

Did you know that your mobile devices automatically connect to networks, which can put your personal information at risk? Learn how to identify secure internet signals and websites, and get some tips to protect your data in the digital world.

Security when using public Wi-Fi networks

We all want a private internet signal that “welcomes us home” when we return from work or school. Many of us assume that every house we visit has its own Wi-Fi signal, and we ask for the password with little concern about security.

But we can’t always use our home internet. In fact, many people can’t connect from their homes – either because of economic barriers or because they live in areas without providers. In such situations, we often need to use public Wi-Fi connections.

They’re available in restaurants, malls, hotels, on public transportation, in schools and other places. These networks often have signals that just appear while we’re walking down the street. While it’s handy to have them there, it’s also important to identify which are safe, and how to use them without putting your information at risk.

Two types of public Wi-Fi: secured and unsecured.

One type of internet connections we want to avoid is an unsecured connection. These networks can be freely accessed. You only need to be within the coverage range, and no security step – like a password or login – is needed.

On the other hand, a secured connection asks the user to accept certain legal terms, and gain access with an account or code. You can also sometimes purchase a certain amount of data or connection time to use a secure connection. These services are much more reliable, since they usually come from well-known companies that make a deal with the people who receive the service. The users often are customers of a business, like guests of a hotel, or they buy a code to connect.

When accessing a free network, make sure that its origin is reliable. Viasat Community Wi-Fi hotspots are a good example of a reliable connection. They’re intended to bring internet to people in specific areas who don’t have the option of paying for a private service.

Regardless of whether a network is secured or unsecured, it’s a good idea to follow some simple security recommendations when you connect to a new network.

Banking data

When you’re using a network with unknown origins, don’t open or enter banking information. Wait to take care of personal finances until you’re on a connection you know and trust.

Online shopping

Follow the same principle here as you would with bank data. Online shopping requires sending important information such as passwords and payment data. Only do it from a trusted connection.

Automatic connectivity

Disable this option on your phone, tablet or computer. When automatic connectivity is activated, your device likely will connect from one network to another while you are traveling; that’s why you may sometimes have Wi-Fi on your phone but don’t know the source. It seems like a helpful feature, but it puts you at risk of connecting to an unprotected network. Turn off this option, especially when you’re in unfamiliar territory.

And don’t worry, your phone will still remember your usual secure Wi-Fi networks when you’re in proximity to them again.

Turn off Bluetooth when you’re not using it

When you’re at home, you use Bluetooth for many things and enjoy the benefits of connecting different devices. But when you’re in public spaces, keep the Bluetooth disconnected. Hackers are always looking for open signals to access any device.

Check to be sure you’re visiting a safe website

Browsers like Google Chrome can let you know if the website you’re visiting is encrypted, which adds extra security to your privacy.

  • Addresses that start with HTTPS and show a closed padlock at the beginning of the URL are secure.
  • Pages that start with HTTP (no S) are not encrypted, which means there’s a risk that any hacker connected to the same Wi-Fi can see your information. These sites also show an open padlock icon in the address bar. It’s inadvisable to enter those sites, even using your private internet.

There are simple precautions to follow, whether using private Wi-Fi or protected public Wi-Fi. They’re especially important if you need to use unprotected public Wi-Fi at some point.