What You Need to Know Before Using Public Wi-Fi

Written by Preet Banerjee

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

Just as there are no free lunches in this world, there's no such thing as free Wi-Fi either.

Sure, you can find open Wi-Fi hotspots almost anywhere, but while you might not pay upfront to access a data connection, the long-term cost, hassle, and pain can trump all of that if your private information gets hacked.

And it's incredibly easy for that to happen.

There's no shortage of stories of people having their bank accounts hacked, having mysterious charges racked up on their credit cards, getting frozen out of their social networks, and worse. Without even knowing it, you could even be inviting people to steal your identity outright. The financial damage, and the time to recover from it, can be devastating.

How Easy Is It To Get Hacked on Public Wi-Fi?

SciShow has a great explanatory video (2 min 53 sec).

Even though the warnings of using public Wi-Fi® hotspots and unencrypted websites have been issued for many years, people seem to be knowingly trading away information privacy for access to data connections. This next video (2 min 37 sec), produced SEVEN years ago, shows how people blindly connected to a hotspot in an airport and how easy it was to collect their data.

Fast forward to today, and not much has changed. The warnings have apparently fallen on deaf ears. The Government of Canada has some tips to consider the next time you're thinking of connecting to a public Wi-Fi network.

They recommend keeping your Wi-Fi off when possible, ensuring you have SSL encryption enabled and that you visit secure HTTPS sites. And if you plan on using public Wi-Fi a lot, using a VPN (virtual private network) is a sensible option.

With the rise of mobile banking, it's become even more imperative to be constantly aware of how we're going online.

You Can't Be Complacent Anymore

It's probably a good idea to periodically invest some personal time to brush up on information security best practices. You don't have to spend hours per week, but the landscape is ever evolving and new techniques are always being developed, so you can't just tick off a checklist once and assume you'll never have to revisit how you handle yourself and your data.

If there's one simple takeaway, it might be this: We are far too relaxed with protecting our information, and exercising a little vigilance is something we need to start doing, and that vigilance needs to be constant.

We've all learned to protect our PINs, so with that same attitude, we need to be careful with our online habits.

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