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Is Public WiFi® Safe?

By Nychole Price
Updated May 17, 2024
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Public WiFi® is everywhere you go, such as at coffee shops, libraries, print shops and even some fast food restaurants. You can easily connect your laptop to it and you will be surfing the web in no time at all. Although it is convenient, it may not be safe. Hackers and scammers can tap into your unsecured connections and easily steal your personal information. You can protect your computer if you take a couple of precautions.

When you are using public WiFi®, make sure to use a firewall. Firewalls give you extra protection, though not foolproof, from people trying to scam your information. Windows XP and Vista operating systems have built in firewalls. If you need to set up a firewall on your laptop, visit the Microsoft website.

Public WiFi® locations are not the place to conduct business that involves the use of private information. If a scammer hacks into your computer, all of your — or your customer's — personal information will be obtained. Even if you have a firewall, there is no guarantee that your information won't be stolen. Save business-related work for the office.

It may seem like a public WiFi® location is the perfect place to do a little online shopping. It is, in fact, the worst place. While online shopping, you are likely to use your credit card to pay for your purchases. This places your credit card information out in cyberspace for dishonest people to use. Feel free to browse your favorite online stores, but save the actual purchase until you have a secure connection.

Never balance your checking account, or use any other online banking service, when accessing the Internet at a public WiFi® location. Besides the stranger that may be looking over your shoulder, there are other people that may be tapping into your network connection. They can acquire your username and password as well as all your personal information.

Make sure when using public WiFi® that you disconnect any networked computers and file sharing. If a hacker does manage to access your computer, they will also be able to access any computers linked to your network. All the information stored on the computers will be accessible.

Disable your wireless network if you are at a location that offers public WiFi® and you aren't using your computer. This can be done by removing the wireless card or right clicking on your wireless network icon and selecting "disable." Even when not in use, your wireless connection is still at risk to be intercepted.

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Discussion Comments
By indigomoth — On Jun 30, 2012

@croydon - It's also dangerous for everyone connected to the person. A couple of times I've been contacted by my "friend" telling me that she's been mugged and needs me to send money. Of course, when you send a text message you realize your friend is perfectly all right, except that they've been using the internet in an insecure place and let hackers get into their email.

So, even if you think it's OK and you're willing to shoulder the risk, remember that you're putting everyone you are connected to at risk as well. Most of the time the bad guys are easy to spot if you're tech savvy, but will your grandmother be able to spot them?

By croydon — On Jun 29, 2012

@Iluviaporos - It's for this reason that I have two bank accounts. One is fairly easily accessed and I use it for day to day transactions. The other is with a separate bank and I only ever deposit money in there. It's pretty difficult to withdraw anything from that one, as it needs multiple passwords and special numbers and so forth.

I wouldn't want to have to deal with that hassle all the time, but I also don't want to leave myself completely vulnerable to predators. If someone manages to hack into my wireless, and I travel a lot, so it's pretty inevitable that it will happen eventually, all they will be able to access is a few hundred dollars at the most.

I see friends get hacked all the time from thinking it's OK to use their email and Facebook on public wi-fi and not setting up a firewall or anything. The worst thing is that their email gets used to spam all their contacts which is terribly embarrassing.

By lluviaporos — On Jun 28, 2012

It's a good idea to repeat this. Never access your bank or use your credit cards while using public wi-fi. You should also make absolutely sure you aren't accessing anything where you use the same password.

You're supposed to use unique passwords for everything that you access, but people almost never do. They forget what the password is, so figure it's just easier to use the same password for everything. So, even if you think you're being safe by not accessing your bank, you're using the same password to access your email and someone figures out how to get into your bank account as a result.

People get hacked all the time, so be careful. You have a lot to lose if you let your guard down.

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