11 Things to Consider When Connecting to Free WiFi

written by

Jack Foster

last updated

September 30, 2020

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There’s absolutely no doubt that everyone loves free WiFi (I certainly do)! Free WiFi is much more readily available in 2020, with WiFi spots on the bus to work, in your local cafe, and even when you’re doing your grocery shopping in the supermarket.

However, not many people consider the risks of connecting to free WiFi. We’ll cover each aspect in detail so that you can go away armed with the correct knowledge to prevent yourself from becoming a victim.

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1. Use a VPN

Using a virtual private network (VPN) like ExpressVPN will ensure that your privacy is kept private. Without a VPN, your internet activity can be tracked via your IP address, making you an easy target. A VPN will allow your time spent online to remain anonymous (we’ve reviewed the best VPN’s here).

If you connect to free WiFi via your mobile phone or tablet, you’ll be able to download a VPN app. Simply visit the iOS or Android app store via your smart device and search for ‘VPN’. You’ll be able to browse through plenty of free and paid apps.

2. Use a Secure Connection

It may sound like a bit of a no brainer, but you’ll be surprised by the amount of un-secure websites on the internet. It’s simple to identify a secure website just by making sure the URL starts with https:// as opposed to http:// (always make sure the s is present).

If you’re still worried that your connection may not be secure, you can install the HTTPS extension in your browser.

3. Forget networks on your device

Most devices will remember a WiFi connection automatically. Handy if you’re at home using a private connection, but not so great if you’re connecting to a free public WiFi spot. If you’re not sure how to forget a network on your iPhone, take a look at this guide. You can perform a simple search engine search for any smart phone or device, just remember to forget this network.

When you pass a public WiFi spot you’ve used before, you’ll be prompted to connect to the network again. This may be time consuming, but it could save you from becoming a victim of fraud.

4. Don’t use your credit card or internet banking

As tempting as it may be to sit down in your local coffee shop and do some internet shopping, it may not be safe! If you’re using a free WiFi spot (even if it is secure), do not use your bank card to purchase goods online, or access your internet banking.

Free WiFi spots are much easier targets for hackers and fraudsters, so it’s better to be safe than sorry!

5. Turn off your WiFi

If you’re not actually interested in using free WiFi when you’re out in public, simply turn it off on your device. Whether you’re using a laptop, phone, or tablet, you can simply set your device to WiFi off.

Not only will you not be able to connect to WiFi (thus reducing your chances of being a victim of fraud), you’ll also save some battery. A win-win situation!

6. Use an Antivirus

Whether you’re using a desktop or portable device, you can install antivirus software. Yes, you can even have an antivirus on your phone! Antivirus software can be free or paid, dependent on the type of features you want.

When using any antivirus softwarealways remember to install the latest version. Antivirus software can detect hacking attempts and even fake free WiFi connections.

7. Encrypt your passwords

Admittedly it can be difficult to remember usernames and passwords. However, you should never write them down on your device (even if you’re at home). Carelessness makes you an easy target; if a hacker can get past an open WiFi connection that you’re connected to, they can easily access your data.

If you simply can’t remember your passwords, make sure you use a password manager that will ensure they are encrypted.

8. Turn off Bluetooth

You may be questioning what Bluetooth has to do with free WiFi. When you’re connected to free WiFi, or simply out in public, Bluetooth allows communication. Open communication on mobile devices can lead to cybersecurity risks that can be eliminated by simply turning your Bluetooth connection off or using a VPN service such as Avast.

Bluetooth is a fun feature to use at home or in a private space, but best avoided in public!

9. Update your device

Believe me, I agree that device updates can be irritating, especially when they take longer than a few minutes. However, ignoring a crucial device update could lead to you putting yourself at risk. Software updates are designed to fix issues and provide security updates to your device.

Updates can be applied directly to your device whilst in use, e.g. the latest Windows update. Alternatively, you can set a reminder on your phone to update at a specific time/date so as not to disturb your current activity.

10. Logout of applications

Mobile and desktop applications have a habit of ‘performing background activity’. If you’re connected to a free WiFi spot, your applications could be using the hotspot to transmit data. Instant messaging apps, for example, use GPS technology to track your location.

To ensure your applications are only used when you want to use them, logout of all apps unless you’re connected to a private and secured network.

11. Disable sharing

On most devices you’ll find a setting which can enable/disable sharing. Sharing is simply a way of being able to access files and data easily between devices. Though this feature may be handy at home, it’s definitely not advised to be used when connecting to free or public WiFi.

When you login to your Windows PC for example and connect to a network, you’ll be asked if your connection is public or private. Ensure you select public if you are using a public connection to disable sharing.

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