How to stay safe on public Wi-Fi

Is public Wi-Fi unsafe? 

The short answer is: not necessarily, but you are vulnerable. Many people are unaware of the risks of connecting to a public Wi-Fi network. Imagine walking home alone late at night. The city streets are not necessarily dangerous, but you’re a lot more secure in your house, behind a locked door. When using public Wi-Fi, like walking home alone late at night, you want to take precautions and be on guard.  


How is public Wi-Fi dangerous?

Open Wi-Fi means anyone can connect, including an attacker. On top of that, you have no way of knowing the level of security of the network, if it has any security at all. These two factors mean a malicious actor could be lurking on the network with the intent and ability to steal your data and personal info—banking logins, credit card and social security numbers, and private files. What a hacker can steal is only limited by what sites you access and what info may be located on your computer itself. 

The bottom line is, you just can’t know if public Wi-Fi is safe, and it’s better to protect yourself than to take a chance. Here are five tips you can take with you the next time you need to connect to any public Wi-Fi.


  • Use a VPN

If you’ve ever listened to a podcast, you’ve probably heard at least one ad for NordVPN or ExpressVPN. VPN stands for virtual private network, and the simple explanation is that a VPN encrypts your data and obfuscates your browsing by passing it through a third party. There are free VPN options, but it is better to entrust your data to a reputable, established service, and the vast majority are in the $3-$6 per month range. 

Other examples of respected VPNs include ProtonVPN, IPVanish, and Surfshark. Most of these services come with an app that you simply switch on, it does its work in the background, and you don’t even notice a difference.


  • Turn on “always use https” in your browser

The “S” in HTTPS stands for secure. It means your connection to a website is encrypted. When you switch on this setting, which previously required an extension but is available now in all modern browsers, your computer will always connect to the HTTPS version of a website if it is available. These days, most websites will have an HTTPS connection, especially sites with sensitive information like your bank. 

This is not a fool-proof defense and won’t stop every attack, but it does add a layer of protection and costs you nothing in terms of money or browsing speed. If a warning pops up that says something along the lines of “this site is not secure,” that means your browser couldn’t find an HTTPS connection, and you’re better off not visiting that site or at least waiting until you’re on secure Wi-Fi. You can find this setting by searching HTTPS in your browser settings. 


  • Don’t log into your bank or other sensitive sites

Hackers can’t take data you don’t provide. A common attack is called a “man in the middle attack.” This can take many forms, but the end result is they take advantage of poor public Wi-Fi security to serve you a fake website that looks real, such as your bank. As soon as you enter your credentials, you’ve handed them over to the attacker. 

If you absolutely must access sensitive data while away from a secure network, you’re better off using an official app on your phone while connected to cellular data. Although rare, spoofed cell networks are a possible attack vector as well, but these tend to target large gatherings and haven’t been prevalent enough to warrant being afraid to use your mobile data generally. 


  • Turn off automatic connections and disconnect when you’re done

Most of these tips require some active measures on your part, which you can’t do if you don’t realize or forget that you’re connected to public Wi-Fi. On Windows, make sure to choose “public Wi-Fi” when it prompts you while connecting to the network for the first time. On Mac, you can click the Wi-Fi icon, go to network preferences and uncheck “automatically join this network.”


  • Enable 2-factor authentication everywhere you can 

This won’t protect your private data like credit card, social security, or bank account numbers, but it will add a layer of protection for your logins. Usually, two-factor authentication requires you to enter a special code the first time you log in on a new device. The code is either texted to you or generated by an app. That way, even if an attacker had your login and password, they would have to physically take your phone and get past the lock screen to be able to get into your account.

Most banks, financial institutions, and email providers have this option. More and more websites are adding this option every day. Add two-factor authentication everywhere, but at the very least, to your email account. Password reset emails are sent to your inbox, which means if someone compromises your email, they could potentially get into any account you own. Are you still reading this? What are you waiting for? Go set it up now!


Don’t want to think about data security? Let us think about it for you. Give us a call at (405) 418-6282 or schedule a free consultation at

Photo by Franck on Unsplash