Everywhere you go, you’ll see people connecting to the internet with smartphones. From cafes to museums, wi-fi connections allow us to check our emails, surf the web, and catch up with social media. It’s made life more enjoyable, expanded our social options, and helps us work more efficiently as well.
But there’s a darker side to using smartphones with wi-fi networks. Many of these networks are unsecured, making them extremely vulnerable to criminal activity. With relatively little effort, these criminals can pose as legitimate routers, steal your identity, and access your personal data. So how can you avoid this? Here are 7 tips to keep you safe when you use unsecured wi-fi with your phone.
7 Tips For Staying Safe On Public WiFi
1. Install a high-quality Virtual Private Network
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) should be your first line of defense when using smartphones on unsecured public wi-fi networks. These invaluable apps work by creating encrypted “tunnels” between your phone and websites.
They also pass data through servers located across the world, allowing users to anonymize their digital identities. That way, it’s much harder to steal your identity or hack into your traffic, no matter how insecure the network is in your location.
Choosing the right VPN is absolutely essential because many providers don’t actually provide the level of security required. Paid VPNs are the way to go, with services like ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and IPVanish right at the top of the list. Even Mozilla Firefox is now doing trials for a new VPN feature which may make setting up a private network easier.
These services should be really easy to set up, thanks to dedicated Android and iOS apps. They won’t inundate you with ads, and – more importantly – they won’t keep logs. So you know that, whatever you do on unsecured public wi-fi networks, nobody is watching. Not even your VPN.
2. Use anti-malware and virus checking tools
There’s a myth about Android phones regarding viruses and malware. Many people atill think that their smartphones are immune to these types of digital attacks, but that’s not true. Unsecured wi-fi networks can be the vector for malware and man-in-the-middle attacks whether you are using a smartphone or laptop computer.
This makes it essential to install a reliable anti-malware tool, preferably one from the Google Play store. And it also means updating the library of your anti-malware scanner at regular intervals.
Moreover, it helps to be very careful about what apps you download, and the permissions you grant them. Sometimes, attackers can target users on unsecured public wi-fi networks because they have been previously infected by malware from malicious apps. So avoid unknown app stores and stick to the mainstream download sites.
3. Make sure your OS patches are current
This especially applies to Android phones, but whatever OS you use, it’s essential to keep your patches up to date. Whenever new Android versions are released, you can guarantee that an army of hackers sets to work, seeking out their weaknesses. Before long, almost every version is exposed as suffering from serious vulnerabilities.
That’s why regular updates are constantly becoming available. And the benefits go beyond using public wi-fi safely. You’ll almost certainly see performance boosts and have stronger antivirus protection when you upgrade, so don’t put off patches. They are like vaccinations. If you delay them, the consequences can be very serious indeed.
4. Use password security when entering sensitive information
When criminals target unsecured public wi-fi networks, they are generally looking for a few pieces of information, such as social media and email login details. But, more importantly, they want access to payment details. And this means cracking the passwords that smartphone users employ.
There are a few ways to make your information more secure, and VPNs are at the top of the list. But password security is vital as well. Using password managers like LastPass can make it much harder for hackers to access your login codes.
Try to use secure payment portals as well. The connection between your phone and eCommerce retailers and banks is a common weak spot. So check for secure servers and authentication processes – and avoid giving payment details to sites that you haven’t successfully used before. Basically, the more risks you run, the more likely you are to suffer from online fraud.
5. Be selective about which wi-fi networks you use
Not all public wi-fi networks are equal. As you soon learn when you start to use them regularly, they vary by speed and reliability. But what people learn less frequently is what these variations could mean for their online security.
Slow public wi-fi networks could be down to routers or other factors. But they can also be evidence of poor network security. In some cases, slow speeds can be caused by data being routed through third-party devices (or shadow routers). These devices can be run by malicious actors, and the network operator may have no idea they are being exploited.
Often, these rogue networks are created to mimic legitimate wi-fi services. So if you’re unsure, ask the store or cafe where you are working. They will know the actual ID of their wi-fi network and may be able to explain why speeds are slow. If you have any doubt at all, just head somewhere else to surf the web on your phone.
6. Think about using two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a valuable security tool which adds another security layer when accessing apps and websites. When you turn two-factor authentication on, these services will send you special login codes, which have to be entered every time you use them.
For instance, Facebook has a setting where you can ask them to send a login code every time you access your account from a device that the social media giant doesn’t recognize, which should function as an effective screen against identity thieves.
2FA isn’t a solution on its own – at least not on unsecured public wi-fi networks. “Sniffers” can still gain access to the unique codes sent through by apps and social media sites. But when used in conjunction with VPNs, it makes life harder for criminals.
7. Be disciplined about what you do on unsecured networks
This one might be the most important tip of all. When you use unsecured wi-fi networks, draw up a list of your “dos” and “don’ts”. For example, you might tell yourself never to make payments via unsecured wi-fi. Or you might refuse to open any attachments.
This list could also include basic security practices that many people neglect. For instance, many people use automatic connectivity to find the nearest or fastest wi-fi access. This can lead their phones to connect to networks they haven’t checked out.
Similarly, many phones allow you to toggle Bluetooth on and off. As Bluetooth can be a key vulnerability on unsecured networks, it’s a good idea to turn it off, but few people do.
Stay safe when using your smartphone on unsecured wi-fi
When you add these 7 tips together, you’ll radically reduce the risk of falling victim to identity theft, financial loss, and malware infections while using unsecured public wi-fi networks.
In general, it’s a good idea to stick to secure networks, but we all know that this isn’t always an option. However, with a strong VPN, 2FA, malware scanning tools, and some simple common sense, these networks can be safe to use.
I hope you learned something new from these 7 tips for staying safe on public WiFi, stay tuned for more interesting updates!