Connecting to public Wi-Fi is tempting for many reasons, especially if you need to check an app on the fly and want to limit your data usage. Safeguarding the personal information your apps hold while using public Wi-Fi is always risky, so how can you make sure that you’re doing the most you can to keep your information private and secure? As a start, always make sure that your operating system is up-to-date, thereby providing you with base security. While a lot of the security of certain mobile apps comes down to the development of the app, there are a few ways to immediately determine whether connecting to a particular Wi-Fi hotspot is either relatively safe or likely to be too dangerous.
Making sure the network name for the public Wi-Fi that appears in your list of available networks is a good first step to ensuring your data will be safe. Check signage or ask the staff at the location offering the Wi-Fi to ensure the name of the network you connect to is the correct one. Many public Wi-Fi connections at cafes, restaurants, or airports have several networks connected to them. Checking that you are connected to the right network is the best start to safely using public Wi-Fi.
Semi-open networks require the user to enter an email address or to click on their terms and services before allowing access. Due to the extra security to weed out the bots, these networks are generally more secure than those that allow the instant connection, and often boast a quicker network speed due to less widespread public usage.
If you have to use public Wi-Fi, the safest option to scramble your outgoing data to confuse data pirates is by using a VPN. There are various apps on the market, like Hotspot Shield, which can provide your mobile connection to public Wi-Fi with more security than should you proceed without one. By using a VPN, your connection is routed through an encrypted tunnel or a set of proxy servers to hide the traffic from you to the internet, making it look like the traffic is coming from the VPN server instead of you, thus making your connection more secure.
If possible, enable a two-factor authentication process on your apps. Requiring two factors of identity confirmation before signing in to the app provides an extra layer of security for your most personal information, such as banking. While this process is not offered on every app, it’s generally available on financial, social media, and apps that store health-related data. The added protection of a two-factor authentication is peace of mind that third parties will have a more difficult time attempting to breach the data stored within those apps and will likely not follow through.
If you have used the public Wi-Fi for its purpose and no longer need to be connected to it, you can go into your settings and choose “forget this network” from the Wi-Fi options. Further, if you’re not actively using your Wi-Fi connection in public, it’s always safest to turn it off completely. Otherwise, your Wi-Fi automatically connects to any network it remembers, which raises your susceptibility to data and information breaches by third parties.