Security Tips for Using Public Wi-Fi

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Public Wi-Fi hotspots are, on the surface, great for a mobile workforce, allowing people to work in numerous places, from coffee shops to airports. But, as the tech industry has begun to discover, this increased mobility comes with a serious risk.

The problem is that public Wi-Fi just isn't secure. In most cases, you don't know or have control over who set up and maintains the equipment you're using to connect to the internet. And you certainly don't know the other people connecting via that same equipment, who, with some know-how, can use that equipment to spy on your online activity.

To make matters even worse, setting up a fraudulent Wi-Fi hotspot is all-to easy for criminals and can allow them to see and steal data from your computer. Say, for instance, you like to work at your local Panera. As shown in the diagram below, a criminal could set up a Wi-Fi hotspot called "Panera Bread Wi-Fi" to be available to customers alongside the legitimate hotspot provided by the store. If you connect to the wrong one, you put your data at risk.


So, what's a mobile worker to do? Here are a few tips to make sure that you remain secure on the go.

1. Use a Mobile Hotspot Instead

The best way to avoid the dangers of using public Wi-Fi is to find another way to connect to the internet on the go, such as a mobile hotspot. Given the vast availability of such hotspots on smartphones, this should be a no-brainer for many businesses. True, data plans do pose a cost, and some carriers do begin to throttle data usage over hotspots after a certain point. But, especially when sensitive work needs to be done away from a secure network, a personal mobile hotspot is a much safer bet than unmanaged public hotspots.

2. Use a VPN

Really, any business with employees who do work remotely, including from their home networks, should invest in a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Essentially, a VPN creates a secure tunnel to your office network, from which employees can then access the internet securely. That way, if employees absolutely must access the internet from a public hotspot, they can do so securely.

3. Always Look for "https"

The "https" designation at the beginning of a web address indicates that any information you provide that website (such as usernames, passwords, account numbers, or personal information) will be transmitted over an encrypted connection. It's a good general rule - whether you're on a public Wi-Fi connection or not - to never provide sensitive data to websites unless you see that "https" designation. This is even more important when using public Wi-Fi, however, because of increased risks of criminals spying on your web activity on that local network.

4. Confirm the Legitimacy of the Hotspot You're Using

If you absolutely must connect using a public Wi-Fi hotspot, check with the establishment that is providing it to determine a) if the hotspot you see is legitimate, and b) what the exact name of the hotspot is. As demonstrated in the example above, it's all to easy for would-be hackers to set up a fraudulent hotspot. Beyond that, it's important to also think twice about whatever hotspot you're using. In some cases, hackers can even trick your device into thinking it has connected to a trusted network - such as your office network - even though you are miles away from that network. So, if you're in Starbucks, and you see that you're connected to your home or office network, take this as a sign that something is up.

Have questions about Wi-Fi security and how it can affect your business? Don't hesitate to contact us!