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How to Safely Use Public Wi-Fi Networks


Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee shops, libraries, airports, hotels, universities, and other public places are convenient, but often they’re not secure. If you connect to a Wi-Fi network and send information through websites or mobile apps, someone else might be able to see it. Here are some ways to safely use public Wi-Fi when you’re out and about.

Public Wi-Fi Isn’t Secure

When you’re at home, you can take steps to keep your home wireless network secure — like using a strong router password, limiting what devices can get onto your network, and turning on encryption, which scrambles the information you send over the internet into a code that can’t be read by others. But when you’re using your favorite coffee shop’s Wi-Fi, there’s not a lot you can do to control its network security.

Why does it matter? If the network isn’t secure, and you log into an unencrypted site — or a site that uses encryption only on the sign-in page — other users on the network can see what you see and send. They could hijack your session and log in as you. New hacking tools — available for free online — make this easy, even for users with limited technical know-how. Your personal information, private documents, contacts, family photos, and even your login credentials could be up for grabs.

A scammer also could use your account to impersonate you and scam people on your contact lists, or test your usernames and passwords on other websites — including sites that store your financial information. If a scammer gets your personal or financial information, they could steal your identity.

When you sign on to public Wi-Fi, you may also be sharing your data with the companies providing the Wi-Fi. Many public Wi-Fi networks such as in airports and hotels will also prompt you to install a “digital certificate” to use their internet. They may do this to scan your traffic for malware — but this also allows them to read your traffic, even if it’s to a site using https (which encrypts information).

But there are steps you can take to protect your information, even in public.

Ways to Encrypt Your Information

While there isn’t much you can do to make a public Wi-Fi network more secure, you can do some things to help keep your data secure on public Wi-Fi.

Protect Your Information When You Use Public Wi-Fi

Here are some other ways you can protect your information when you’re using public Wi-Fi:

Keep these tips in mind next time you choose to connect to public Wi-Fi. If you suspect that you are the victim of fraud, please contact Bank of New Hampshire immediately at 1.800.832.0912.

Credit: Federal Trade Commission