How to stay safe on public Wi-Fi networks

Public Wi-Fi hotspots offer an easy and comfortable way to access the internet whenever you’re on the go. But public Wi-Fi can also be dangerous. Hackers and other bad actors often choose such networks to target unsuspecting users. If you use a VPN (Virtual Private Network), it’s much harder for anyone to steal your data or infringe your privacy.

How does a VPN protect you?

A VPN encrypts your data and hides your IP address. If anyone tries to spy on your activities, they’ll only see gibberish code instead of the actual data. This keeps your online activity, sensitive information, and privacy safe whenever you use a VPN, even on public Wi-Fi.

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    What are the risks of public Wi-Fi?

    When using a public Wi-Fi network, you never know who could be monitoring the internet connection. For example, data traffic on public Wi-Fi connections is usually not encrypted, so network security is easily compromised. This makes it fairly easy for snoopers to intercept your traffic. Let’s go over some of their tricks.

    Man-in-the-middle attacks 

    Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack is when a hacker interrupts your connection and gains access to your traffic. And you may have no idea that this is even happening. Data about your activities can be collected and sold to third parties, advertisers, or be used to set up elaborate phishing attacks.

    Evil twin attacks

    Evil twins are fake Wi-Fi hotspots that imitate actual public Wi-Fi networks in the area. For example, if you’re in Starbucks and see two Wi-Fi networks, one named “Starbucks” and the other “Starbucks-for-customers,” you might believe they are both legitimate. In reality, one of them could be set up by a hacker looking to steal your data. 

    Cookie theft

    Bad actors on Wi-Fi networks tend to target your cookies just as much as your traffic. These cookies can be used to get sensitive information, such as your login details, home address, and name. 

    Computer worms

    Some computer worms can be implanted into your device even if you don’t download them or install malicious software. Visiting a malicious website or joining a fake Wi-Fi network can sometimes be enough for hackers to compromise your data.

    What personal information is at risk on public Wi-Fi?

    Eavesdroppers on public networks might monitor network traffic and even steal information you enter on your device. This information can include:

    • Credit card and bank account details;
    • Social media passwords;
    • Email login credentials;
    • Any other personal information that you input.

    Fortunately, by encrypting all activity on your device, a VPN service can prevent people from snooping on you and stealing your data. For this reason, a VPN connection is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself on public Wi-Fi.

    How to stay safe on public Wi-Fi

    How to stay safe on public Wi-Fi

    Now, I’m not telling you to stop using public Wi-Fi altogether. Everyone loves free connection. So how can you protect yourself when public Wi-Fi is your only option? 

    Use a VPN

    A VPN provider encrypts your data. This means that anybody snooping on a public Wi-Fi connection will only see jumbled, unusable information. By using a VPN, you can ensure that your data is safe whenever you use a public network.

    Disable file sharing

    Whatever device you use, there will be an option to disable file sharing. Choosing this option, and avoiding AirDrop on iOS or printer sharing, will block possible routes that hackers can use to steal your sensitive data.

    Disable Wi-Fi auto-connect

    Sometimes, hackers will use fake networks with the same name as a trusted network. If you disable auto-connect on your device, you won’t automatically connect to any fake networks.

    Avoid using login details

    If you’re not using a VPN, avoid logging into your online accounts and inputting passwords when on a public network. This includes using passwords for online banking, email accounts, social media, and more.

    Can public Wi-Fi block a virtual private network?

    Yes, public Wi-Fi networks can block you from accessing them with a VPN. Whoever is hosting the connection gets to choose the terms of use, so occasionally, they will block them.

    However, anybody who intentionally blocks you from using a VPN is generally doing it so they can track your online activity.

    If anyone blocks your VPN connection, you can try using a different VPN protocol, switching VPN ports, or switching to another VPN server. While this won’t always work, it can help you overcome local blocks.

    Can a public Wi-Fi provider see your browsing history?

    The owner of the Wi-Fi network you’re connected to can access a lot of your information. This includes browsing history, even if you use Incognito mode, although it’s usually limited to the pages you visit while connected to the network.

    In fact, if you don’t protect yourself with a VPN, the Wi-Fi provider can see and track all your activities, not only the websites you visit. When you use a VPN, your traffic is encrypted before it leaves your device, which means it stays hidden from the owner of the Wi-Fi network and everyone else.

    Why use a VPN for public Wi-Fi? 

    There are a lot of risks on public networks, but what are the exact benefits a VPN will provide? Here are a few that come in particularly handy when you’re using public Wi-Fi:

    Stay secure on public Wi-Fi networks
    Encrypt your data on banking apps
    Share sensitive information securely
    Forget hackers and relax whenever you use free Wi-Fi.
    Protect your transactions with the best encryption on the market.
    Send private files without the fear of them being intercepted.
    Access content on any network
    Work from your favorite coffee shop
    Check social media anywhere
    Get unrestricted access to the internet on any network, anywhere.
    Feel as secure as you do on your work network, no matter where you are.
    Post pictures of cute dogs wherever you are without leaking any sensitive data.

    Disclaimer: we prohibit using Surfshark services for any unlawful purposes as it is against our Terms of Service. Please be sure to act in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations of streaming service providers.

    In conclusion: use a VPN to stay safe on public Wi-Fi networks

    It’s important to understand the dangers of public networks and take proper action to protect your sensitive information when using them. Unless absolutely necessary, we recommend avoiding public Wi-Fi. But if you want to work from a cafe for a day, use a VPN

    A VPN like Surfshark uses a high-level AES 256 GCM encryption for all your activities. Surfshark is affordable, easy to install, and you don’t need any technical knowledge to use it, so it’s the perfect way to protect your data and get that extra peace of mind when using public networks.

    If you’d like to see more features, take a look at the in-depth review of Surfshark.

    Stay safe on public Wi-Fi with a VPN
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    Is VPN free Wi-Fi?

    No. Although VPN protects any network, it isn’t a network itself and will not provide you with an internet connection. 

    What VPN gives free Wi-Fi?

    None. VPNs are additional tools that protect you and your devices. They do not provide Wi-Fi. However, they make it safe to use free Wi-Fi, which makes them an essential tool if you want to stay private and secure whenever you use free internet networks. 

    Can you use a VPN on Wi-Fi?

    Yes, you can use a VPN on Wi-Fi. In fact, using a VPN is highly recommended, especially if you’re on a public Wi-Fi network. It encrypts your data and protects sensitive information from bad actors lurking on public Wi-Fi.

    What VPN can I use on free Wi-Fi?

    To protect your sensitive data on free Wi-Fi, you should use a premium VPN that doesn’t keep logs of your activity. Premium VPN providers prioritize your privacy, so they protect you with secure encryption and ensure your data stays hidden.