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How to stay safe on public Wi-Fi

Tips to make sure you're not hacked while out and about

Working from home
(Image: © Shutterstock)

Many of us are now living a remote work lifestyle and sitting in a coffee shop completing some afternoon work is a great way to mix things up. This means connecting to a public Wi-Fi, which is great, a bit of internet for free, but also comes with some dangers. 

Public Wi-Fi's are easy targets for those looking to steal information. Since they are not as secure as a home network, information shared across the platform can be easily intercepted. 

Many internet security professionals suggest using a personal hotspot as your first option and only logging into a public network if you really have to. 

This is in part because there is a rise in hackers deliberately putting up public Wi-Fi's that appear to be legitimate but are rather used to trick you into handing over sensitive information. 

If you're going to use a public network, here are some ways you can protect yourself. 

Check the network name 

Most networks have a clear name that either aligns to the centre you're operating in or the coffee shop you're working from. However, because of certain connections there may be more than one name which can make it easier for hackers to trick you into picking the wrong one. 

If you're wanting to connect, make sure you ask a waiter or a shop keeper which network it is exactly so that you don't get caught out. 

Use a VPN 

A Virtual Private Network is a great option as it allows you to work online without exposing yourself giving you an extra layer of protection. 

These networks encrypt your data as it moves through the network so it can't be intercepted. 

Choosing the right VPN is tricky and the best are those that you pay for. Find out how to go about picking your VPN. 

Don't give up too much information 

If a network requires you to hand over a lot of personal details before you connect, consider it with increased caution. 

Personal details like phone numbers, ID numbers and addresses should be considered a red flag unless you can identify the source and reason why these would need to be inputted. 

Many coffee shops in South Africa have password protected networks which you just have to log into like your home network. A few of these networks though, like those in big shopping malls, often use the login process as a data capturing opportunity to get your email and send you marketing updates. 

This isn't a problem but don't just input personal information out of habit as a result. 

Limit automatic file sharing and connections 

On the device you are connecting with, turn off automatic functions like file sharing and AirDrop. This leaves you less exposed and less likely to have files randomly sent to you or grabbed from you unsuspectingly. 

Also turn off automatic network connection. This means that if you come into that location again your device won't automatically connect without you knowing, leaving you vulnerable.

Leila Stein

Leila Stein is an experienced multimedia journalist and content producer with a special interest in data journalism. she is skilled in news writing, editing, online writing and multimedia content production and have a Bachelor of Journalism  from Rhodes University and an Honours in Historical Studies from University of Cape Town.