Get your Wi-Fi, free Wi-Fi here! Have you ever gone somewhere, like a coffee shop, a hotel, or conference center, and needed to hop on the Wi-Fi to get an important task done because your mobile phone connection was bad? I know I sure have and done so. But is this safe? Well, it depends all on how you connect. If you don’t know what to do, don’t worry, even cybersecurity experts still make mistakes.

Using public Wi-Fi

Is it safe to use public Wi-Fi? The answer is, it depends. This depends on the security solutions you use and how they are configured. It also depends if the public Wi-Fi is legitimately offered by the business or location you are. It will also depend on if the public Wi-Fi has any of its own security in place. While you know if you are using security solutions, you may not know the legitimacy of the public Wi-Fi or if there is any security in place. Because of this, it is best to presume, it is unprotected and a risk to the accounts and data you will be accessing while on it.

What you can do

One of the first things you will want to do is check for a legitimate Wi-Fi connection, you can do this by asking an employee or event organizer. A lot of times these may even have a username and password required to access. Also, when I say legitimate, I mean Wi-Fi hosted by the business you are visiting and not one a cyber criminal turned on. Just because it is a legitimate Wi-Fi does not mean it is secure.

So you will then want to turn on a virtual private network(VPN) on your device. You can have a VPN on your computer or smartphone, so no matter what device needs to connect, you can. What is a VPN? Well, a virtual private network is a virtual network that your device will use when enabled while connected to the internet. Imagine a secured tunnel from where you are standing to the destination which you are trying to reach. VPNs, when configured properly, help reduce the risk of account information, like usernames and passwords, from being intercepted by cybercriminals.

It is important to remember that not all VPNs are the same. You can find VPNs for free and low cost, but they typically have a catch. Oftentimes they log the data you are sending over the internet. They also may contain limits on connection time or amount of data you can send. They may even sell some of your personal information as part of their business model. When looking for a VPN, it is best to read the fine print and understand what risks you may have with the one you pick.

So next time you see Free Wi-Fi here, you will be a little better prepared to sign on!