Use a virtual private network (VPN) if you want to use a public Wi-Fi hotspots safely.
Public WiFi hotspots should never be trusted. Avoid them if you can. If you really have to use them, use a VPN.
Risks of public Wi-Fi Hotspots
When you place your device on a network you don’t own (or not owned by your service providers), things can go wrong in many aspect. Some bad guy could be monitoring the network, or even in control of the network.
These are networks that do not require any password to join. That means your network traffic is in the clear. There is no encryption. A lot of information, including your personal information, could be captured easily when your traffic is not encrypted.
Rogue Wi-Fi Hotspots
These are free Wi-Fi setup by people with malicious intent. They would use some familiar Wi-Fi SSID name (e.g. nearby store name, or a carrier provider name) to trick you into using it.
They are in complete control of the network and can cause great damage.
If your device has some unpatched software vulnerabilities, some bad guy can exploit and compromise your device through these vulnerabilities.
With your device compromised, there could be significant risk in spreading to your other devices when you use your infected device back at home.
Man in the middle attack (MITM)
If a bad guy has compromised or in control of the network, the bad guy may be able to carry out a man in the middle attack. Essentially, the bad guy will secretly relay, eavesdrop your traffic and possibly alter the traffic to obtain your sensitive information.
Use Virtual Private Network (VPN) service
VPN Service allows you to securely connect to the VPN service provider’s server.
All your network traffic will be encrypted, going through the secure channel established to the VPN server and then access the Internet.
The owner of the public Wi-Fi network or attacker will not be able to intercept your information without the trouble of decrypting your traffic
There are many VPN service providers. A typical use of a VPN service is to install the app or software provided by the VPN service. And you run the app/software to establish connection to a VPN server after your device is connected to the public Wi-Fi network.
The VPN service I used is Private Internet Access. Have been using it for a few years. It’s been working great for me while on the go. And I actually also use it with my home network (which offers some other benefits).
Multiple connections simultaneously are also allowed.
While it’s not free, the price is very reasonable. The most important thing is that it gives you the peace of mind when using all these public Wi-Fi hotspots. It’s really worth it.
Other security measures
Don’t Use any suspicious free Wi-Fi
While VPN service offers very good protection, it’s still best practice to observe and notice any suspicious free Wi-Fi network and always avoid them if you are not sure.
Don’t use default SSID for home Wi-Fi
When you setup a wireless access point like Asus RT-AC3200 at home to enable Wi-Fi, the device will default the SSID to ‘ASUS’.
Use a different and unique SSID. Otherwise, if somebody setup a free Wi-Fi using this default name ‘ASUS’, your mobile device may remember the name and automatically rejoin the Wi-Fi, thinking it’s the same Wi-Fi but in fact is a different one, exposing your mobile device for exploitation.
Forget the free Wi-Fi network after use
Forgot the network avoids your device to connect to the same SSID name automatically. So it’s good practice to do that once you are done with the Internet usage.
Minimize logins and sensitive activities
Avoid them if you can, even with the use of VPN.
Keep your device up-to-date
Always install all the latest security updates.