Pretty much everyone that uses the Internet has connected to public WiFi at some point. The coffee shop. The library. Your school. All of these could offer free public WiFi. Our society has become one that likes to browse the Internet on the go with phones and tablets. A free network allows the user to minimize the usage of data offered through their cell phone provider.
Those who travel use free public WiFi a lot. Expats, vacationers, and others who find themselves abroad search out WiFi and can access it at their hotel and other places. While some of the available WiFi networks may be secured, the free networks are not. Anyone can use them. Free public WiFi might seem like a fine idea, but is it truly free? The answer may surprise you.
Public WiFi Pitfalls
Think about this for a moment. The last time you left the house how many mobile devices did you take along? You surely took your phone. Maybe you took a tablet or a laptop. The point here is that many of us are using free public WiFi on a regular basis. Why would I want to use my phone’s data when I can hop on the Starbucks WiFi and check my email? Sure, many people have unlimited data plans but cell phone providers can slow you down if you go over a certain amount.
Tablets and laptops are surely more useful to you when you have a WiFi connection. You can play your favorite games, check in on news sites, and even chat with your friends using WhatsApp? All for free, right? Well, not so fast. You may be paying a bigger price than you think for free public WiFi access.
The biggest drawback to free public WiFi is that it is made available to anyone that has a device. There is generally no password required to connect, and no personal information is required. Take a look around the library the next time you connect to WiFi. See all those other people using their devices? They are on the same network as you. The same unsecured network. Let that sink in.
Public WiFi networks offer little or no protection against security threats. Their very nature prohibits this. It wouldn’t be free public WiFi if the operator required everyone to get a password, although some places like hospitals have started to do this. Because these are open networks they are vulnerable to data thieves and hackers who are looking to steal your personal information. When this happens to you, the price to set things right can get very high.
What Information Is At Risk with Free Public WiFi?
The personal information that could be at risk when you use free public WiFi depends on what you are doing online. What you reveal could be minor, but it could also be major data such as credit card or banking information. Your browsing history is always exposed, and someone could easily determine what you are searching for or looking at online.
We shouldn’t have to tell you that there are plenty of hackers and data thieves who prey upon open public networks in an effort to sniff out information. The absolute worst case scenario could be having your identity stolen. That could cost you a lot of money and time to resolve, and you might feel the effects of it for many years.
Every day you see data breaches of secured networks. Don’t you think the risk is even higher on public unsecured networks? Don’t take the chance. If you do, using that free public WiFi could become very expensive indeed.
The Free Public WiFi Solution Is A VPN
There is a way that you can use free public WiFi without putting your privacy and security at risk. The solution is called a virtual private network, or VPN. Many people around the world use VPN service to to enjoy a secure connection wherever they browse the Net.
A VPN works simply. You do not have to download any software to your device to make it work. All devices these days have a VPN client already installed. You just put in the credentials supplied by your VPN provider and you’ll be ready to go. Once the client is configured and a server location is chosen, you can connect to the VPN once you are online.
Using a VPN creates an encrypted tunnel between the Internet and your device. Data that is transferred through that tunnel is unable to be deciphered by someone trying to sniff it. A VPN also protects your own IP address by using the IP address of its own server. This means that you can appear to be surfing the Internet from the US when you are really in the Middle East. That is useful for unblocking services that are restricted based on geographical location.
It is highly recommended that you always use a VPN to secure your connection to free public WiFi. The cost of your VPN service is going to be much less than the cost of fixing problems when your data is stolen.
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