No reason to beat around the bush, public wifi hotspots are a big danger, it might however not be for the reasons you think. Sometimes I have used public wifi hotspots at airports, coffee shops, shopping malls and even in grocery stores, it is stupid of me to do so, but there is usually something important to check or send and it was “worth” the risk. What most people don’t know and what I sometimes forget, is that when you send something over the internet on a computer or a smartphone, it is NEVER the only thing being sent.
Smartphones especially have a lot of apps running in the background, doing whatever it is they are supposed to do, this is often sending and receiving messages, downloading information and a myriad of other things. Now the danger with public wifi networks is that the owner or even a malicious user can change the way it behaves and therefore read the information you are sending and receiving in the background or even alter this information if there is a safety loophole in the app sending and receiving it.
Most people will think that this is a very acceptable risk, but as with other things we have talked about, there is a lot of information in your daily life that may seem harmless, but can be abused in combination with other information to gain access to or create deeply personal information about you and your loved ones. A great example as always is finding out where you live and/or work, but it can also be used to contact your loved ones to get your vacation schedule, stealing access to your social media accounts and a myriad of other things.
This is why as a general rule of thumb if you can avoid it, don’t ever use public wifi and if you can’t avoid it, try and minimise the time spent on it and only use sources that seem more legit, like airports, government buildings or your workplace. Now there is a step further we can take this for when we need to access public wifi in emergencies and be safer at the same time, do remark that it is safer, not safe. This is through the magic of rented VPN’s, you can either rent one yourself rather cheap or if you have one provided for you from your workplace.
VPN’s also have the added benefit of being able to hide your information use, should you be in a country with a very restrictive view on what private citizens are allowed to say or not say (usually dictatorships). This also means you have to install the VPN before you travel, as these countries will block you from installing it once there. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and what it means in normal people speak, is that it creates a hidden internet inside the internet. This is rather useful because it masks your information, sent and received, from prying eyes or malicious individuals, like with password managers through the use of encryption.
My personal favorites I have used over the years, can usually be had for $2-3 a month if you sign up for a 3 year period paid up front and they do provide easy of mind with both public wifi and also with prying eyes like your ISP or others at home. The two services I have had the best experience with is NordVPN and VyprVPN, both being reliable high speed services, with apps for almost every device and a bunch of features you may not even need. Do keep in mind though, these apps increase security, they do not eliminate security holes, so you still have to keep your wits about you when using them.