Public Wi-Fi connectivity has expanded to such an extent that it has become natural for us to switch to a public Wi-Fi connection as soon as we step into a specific public area.

From visiting our favorite coffee shops to shopping malls – most of us, do not even think twice before connecting to an open public hotspot.

But here’s the reality: most public Wi-Fi are not secure and can lead to major privacy attacks.

How can a public Wi-Fi be a risk to your privacy?

Public Wi-Fi does seem to be a very attractive option, considering that it is completely free of cost and provides decent download speeds. However, the disadvantages of using a public Wi-Fi far outweigh the advantages.

Public Wi-Fi is free for a reason, and that is usually its poor security structure. Unlike your phone’s data connection or the services provided by your internet service provider, public Wi-Fi has an exceptionally low firewall when it comes to blocking hackers. This low security allows hackers to place themselves between you and the Wi-Fi connection such that when you enter any information on your device, it is sent to the Wi-Fi connection through the hacker. This way, attackers can access the information you put over the internet.

It would not be wrong to say that a public Wi-Fi provides absolutely no security and privacy. Anyone can access your browsing data and glean away sensitive information.

For example, if you enter your bank account number, social security number, or any other kind of personal information on a public Wi-Fi, you can never be sure that it’s not being accessed by a group of hackers who will later use this information to hack into your bank account or steal your identity.

What’s more? Since hackers act as the middlemen between your device and the Wi-Fi connection, they can even manipulate your data. For example, they can change your text messages such that the receiver will get a different version of the message you originally sent. You cannot even begin to imagine the potential ramifications such a practice can have.

How can you protect yourself on public Wi-Fi?

It’s true that accessing the internet over public Wi-Fi connections has a lot of privacy risks. However, that doesn’t mean you should stop using public Wi-Fi altogether. Such connections do have numerous benefits, and you can take advantage of them without compromising your security and privacy. How? By simply taking a few precautions.

The following are some of the simple ways through which you can protect yourself while browsing the web over a public Wi-Fi connection:

1. Use a VPN

The best and most effective way to ensure your security over an open Wi-Fi connection is by using a VPN service. A VPN will not just provide you with unlimited access to restricted websites, but it will also hide your IP address, and provide you with complete anonymity and security. No matter if you use Android or iOS, a VPN is a great feature to have on your mobile, too.

2. Set up a firewall

Operating systems like Android have a built-in feature of a firewall which can be enabled for extra security of the system. While such a firewall is not that necessary over a secure connection, it is always a good idea to enable the firewall while using a public Wi-Fi. This will provide substantial security from hackers.

3. Activate the antivirus

Even if you are fortunate enough and didn’t encounter a hacker over a public Wi-Fi, you can still unintentionally end up downloading a multitude of malware. This is where an antivirus comes to your rescue and protects you from such threats. It’s highly recommended to use both the firewall and the antivirus software on all the devices you access the internet from, including a laptop and a phone.

4. Do not share personal or sensitive information

It goes without saying that the best way to keep yourself safe is to make sure you do not share any sensitive information on the public connection. Thus, avoid sharing personal details like name, age, bank details, and others. You should also try to limit file sharing as much as possible.

5. Do not connect to unidentified networks

Many hackers set up traps in the form of free public Wi-Fi connections aimed at luring in potential targets. You should never connect your device to a network that you are not sure of.

For example, if you want to connect to a public Wi-Fi in a café, it’s always better to ask the café manager about the Wi-Fi and connect to that particular network only.