Should you use free public WiFi?
I once visited one friend of mine who’s working in an ICT shopping mall. One of the box owners have set up a free WI-FI connection for others to use and my friend happily connected her Windows laptop to that WI-FI: that’s free, right? Why shouldn’t her use it? She didn’t see any reason not to do so. And most of us don’t do either.
So let’s take a deeper look at this scenario. Why would you think someone who’s paying for a monthly internet connection fee leaves it so open that everybody can use. Is it for philanthropic purposes? I bet not, there’s no such thing as free beer would they say.
Is it for branding purposes? Probably – isn’t Starbucks Coffee known also for their Wi-Fi availability? But is that all?
In fact, the main challenge with WI-FI network is simple: even though let’s pretend it, the owner of the Wi-Fi network has no bad intentions, you can’t trust the other WI-FI users.
How could you trust public WiFi?
In fact, for example, I can be one of the users of the Wi-Fi network, and while drinking my beer, I am recording all of your internet passwords (if you log in to some internet websites), I can tell what websites you were visiting. I’ll deal a bit longer on this topic in another article, but for now, let’s just focus on how to minimize the risks. So, for now, let’s take for granted that all traffic going through a WI-FI network can be seen by third parties. I then strongly recommend that you use some kind of VPN solution whenever you use a public WiFi network. Why is that?
Using VPN while connecting to public WiFi
By encrypting all of your traffic, any man-in-the-middle’s traffic sniffing would be almost impossible to do while you are using the network, thereby giving you peace of mind. At this stage, chose a VPN solution that has a strong encryption (an IPSec-based VPN is a great option). For example, for iOS devices, I recommend the following hide IP apps. Once you’ve made up your mind on one public WiFi VPN solution, you can use it whenever you are surfing from a public WiFi, a Starbuck Coffee or an internet cafe.
So, what attitude should you take then when using a public network?
This is pretty simple, finally. Get the credentials for accessing the WI-FI. Launch your WI-FI connection, then immediately fire-up your VPN connection. Thoroughly check that your public WiFi VPN connection is actually working (it varies depending on your VPN solution), then and only then, start using the internet. The hacker in the corner would leave you alone for all the time you’ll be connected 🙂 …
Aaaah, one last word: take care of the shoulder-surfing guy who always hangs behind you trying to find out the password keystrokes you are doing on your laptop, and here, a VPN wouldn’t help you – just hide it when typing your password 🙂