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Tips & Tricks

Is It Ever Safe to Use Public Wi-Fi?

 June 1, 2020

By  Anton Kiorolgo

The short answer to the question “Is it ever safe to use public Wi-Fi?” is emphatically no.

Ensure that your PC has Windows firewall enabled and set to the public Wi-Fi option. This will ensure that devices will not be able to see your content, share files with you, or copy files from your device.

However, there are ways to make it mostly safe to use public Wi-Fi.

  • Ethernet Cable: An Ethernet cable would be the safest option, however, in a public area such as an airport, that option is not going to be readily available. The reason that it is the safest option is largely due to the fact an ethernet cable offers a direct feed in and out, rather than being released wirelessly for transmission, where it can be “snatched from the air” by criminals.
  • Mobile Hotspot: Usually offered by cell phone providers, mobile hotspots use cellular data to create a small private Wi-Fi zone, protected with a password akin to another Wi-Fi hotspot. These are useful; however, they are completely dependent on the coverage of the cell phone network in the spot the user wishes to deploy it. Some much more expensive models rely on satellite, however, they have may issues as well, such as during bad weather.
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN): A VPN essentially acts as an ethernet cable, containing data and information in a specific pipeline to funnel it in and out of the user’s computer. On top of this, VPNs encrypt the ingoing and outgoing data, as well as spoof the user’s IP to address to make any information difficult to trace or crack open.

Additional Tips:

  • Tor Browser: For those who are a little more tech-savvy, Tor Browser is an option. Tor is the safest bet, as it possesses an extra layer of security features and a built-in VPN. It is frequently used to browse the deep web due to that fact.
  • Windows Firewall: Ensure that your PC has Windows firewall enabled and set to the public Wi-Fi option. This will ensure that devices will not be able to see your content, share files with you, or copy files from your device.

If you have ever used public Wi-Fi, you shouldn’t break into a cold sweat reading this and immediately start changing all your important passwords. Most internet traffic today is already being encrypted – imagine the information being transmitted being locked in a safe – making it very difficult to get to, and largely not worth the attacker’s time on an unsecured network with other big targets available.

Should someone be monitoring ingoing and outgoing traffic on public Wi-Fi, they will be able to see your searches and site viewing history, but not the information entered, including usernames and passwords, as they are encrypted from the get-go.

The Most Sensible Option for Most Travelers

The most sensible, practical solution for most travelers is the combination of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) paired with a properly configured windows firewall.

There are multiple free Virtual Private Network (VPN) software solutions available, however, many are paid services with solutions below $10 per month and offer additional services alongside the VPN subscription such as file storage, making them affordable, smart deals for travelers.

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Why Public Wi-Fi Can Never Truly Be Safe

If a network attack is being executed, it is entirely possible that a smart enough cybercriminal could break through the Windows firewall and install applications or take files from your computer or see your internet usage. However, that is simply the risk associated with using public Wi-Fi.

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