Using public WIFI can be risky if you are doing more on your device than exploring the internet. Using your favorite coffee shop’s network means that your personal information, private documents, contacts, family photos, and logins could be up for grabs by a hacker. In today’s “Ask The Expert” blog, we sat down with our Security Analyst Brent B. to ask some questions about using public WIFI safely. 

Is there a safe way to use public WIFI? 

It is safe if you keep browsing simple tasks such as searching the web, watching news or videos, or playing games on your phone. Do not use public WIFI for business and secure things like checking your bank account or buying items on Amazon.

Is there a way to tell if a hacker is on the network?  

For the everyday user, no. There are expert tools and techniques that would allow someone to find a hacker, but for the casual user, there are not.

If the site I’m accessing uses HTTPS, does that mean hackers cannot see what I’m accessing? 

It provides secure access to the site; however, there are many ways to bypass security measures and steal the information you are sending over, even what is thought to be a secure connection. HTTPS does help mitigate risks but does not remove all threats from public WIFI.

Is it safer to use an app on public WIFI versus a website? 

It is safer but still not ideal. The app will offer more security but will not stop attacks that target traffic and not the actual application.

If I’m using a VPN, am I 100% secure? 

No, a 100% safe device does not exist. If the government can be hacked, you can be hacked. Using a VPN that encrypts your device’s communications is much safer than not using anything and provides an extra layer of security. While this seems like a horrible situation in which you are never safe, it is, by the way, that the safer use of public WIFI exists. 

Using a combination of the above options will keep you safer than most:

  • Use a VPN that encrypts your traffic.
  • Only connect to sites using HTTPS.
  • Never download things from the public WIFI (like certificates).
  • Never pass secure information (bank account information) over the connection.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has excellent tips on using public WIFI safely while keeping your data & personal information protected. Read how in their blog: