How To Securely Use Public Wi-Fi

Remote work doesn’t just mean working from home, for many employees it means they will work from anywhere. If you walk into a coffee shop during the workweek, the likelihood of someone working on a laptop or tablet with private information is high. While finding ways to switch up your remote workday is growing in popularity, it’s important to know about one of the many risks of working from your local coffee shop: public Wi-Fi. Despite its convenience, there are many security concerns that come with connecting to a public Wi-Fi network. 

What is a public Wi-Fi network? 

A public Wi-Fi network allows users to wirelessly connect to the web without a password. Public Wi-Fi networks can be found in coffee shops, airports, malls, public libraries, and so much more. The number of public Wi-Fi hotspots has quadrupled since 2016. So, what exactly are you getting into when connecting to a public hot spot? 

There are many security risks associated with public Wi-Fi networks: 

  1. Identify Theft – criminals steal personal information like credit card numbers, addresses, photos
  2. Unknown Tracking – Wi-Fi providers can track your behavior and sell data to advertisers 
  3. Malware Distribution – malware can take the form of ransomware, viruses, or adware. Users on the same Wi-Fi or someone tracking the Wi-Fi can install malware onto your computer 
  4. Packet Sniffing – this occurs when someone from the same Wi-Fi network monitors anything being sent from or received on your device 

These risks exist, but there are also good strategies that will allow for to work securely in your favorite coffee shop or library! Here are a couple of ways our team recommends you minimize the security risks. 

  1. Use a Virtual Private Network – a VPN will hide your computer’s IP address and the information you dispatch online 
  2. Enable a firewall – a firewall will track the data traffic and protect it from unauthorized access 
  3. Don’t stay permanently signed into accounts – be sure to sign off accounts as soon as you are done to prevent information from being downloaded 
  4. Pay attention to warnings – respond quickly to alerts from your web browser about security 
  5. Use a mobile hotspot – the safest way to work in public is using a mobile hotspot through your phone provider. It removes the risk of outside access to your information

Bonus tip: once you’re virtually secure, don’t forget to add a privacy screen to your laptop! This screen will make it harder for other people around you to view your screen and see any sensitive information.

While using a public network can be convenient, it comes with significant security risks for your organization. A good rule of thumb to follow for Wi-Fi is that if you aren’t paying for service, it won’t be fully secure. Understanding the risks and how to avoid them will make sure that your data stays secure. As Wi-Fi becomes more publicly available, make sure to incorporate some of these safety practices.