Protect Your Data — Critical Things to Know About Public and Hotel Wi-Fi

When we travel stateside or abroad, there’s plenty of free Wi-Fi available at many airports, hotels and cafes. Here’s what you need to know: Public Wi-Fi is big on convenience but small on security. Sure, we love having our lattes and laptops … but before you check your bank balance or shop on Amazon, think again.

Here’s what you should know about public Wi-Fi to keep your information safe.

Public Wi-Fi explained

Crowd of people /

Being on public Wi-Fi is a lot like having a conversation in a crowded room. The chances of being overheard by the people around you are high. When you send information over an unsecured Wi-Fi network, it’s sent without the extra layer of security or encryption that a private, secured network offers, so it’s relatively easy for hackers to access the information you type and send, including your login and password information.

It’s hard to know if a public Wi-Fi connection is secure at a hotel or cafe so it’s best to err on the side of caution and treat it as if it’s an unsecured connection. Therefore, to protect your information, be sure to do these following things while on an unsecured Wi-Fi connection:

Be suspicious of all Wi-Fi links

Hooded person working on computer.
Minerva Studio /

Some bogus links that have been set up by cybercriminals will have a connection name that’s deliberately similar to the coffee shop, hotel, or venue that’s offering free Wi-Fi.

Verify the connection’s name with an employee at the hotel or cafe that’s providing the public Wi-Fi connection.

Tech Tip: Be sure your computer or cellphone is not set up to automatically connect to unknown Wi-Fi networks — or set it (in your Wi-Fi settings) to ask you before connecting — so you will know what you’re connecting to when you connect.

Avoid online banking or shopping sites

Man's hand holding credit card while working at computer
WAYHOME studio /

Shopping on Amazon or paying bills online is probably not a good idea when you’re using an unsecured network. Avoid any site where you would input your credit card.

If you do need to shop or bank on-the-go, it’s a better idea to use your cellular data and access your secure mobile carrier’s network.

Stick to secure sites

Close up of URL field on computer screen
Marc Bruxelle /

Use sites that are protected through a secure connection. Secure websites will have “https” rather than “http” in the web address and the padlock symbol in the left corner of your browser address bar.

Use a VPN

Man in suit pressing virtual VPN button
Panchenko Vladimir /

Frequent travelers may want to consider purchasing a VPN service (virtual private network), which encrypts your online activity so hackers can’t see what you’re doing. Some providers will allow you to purchase their services for a few days at a time.

What precautions do you take to protect your personal information when on the road? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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