If you are traveling a lot, you know how airport and café Wi-Fi can be important when you are on a limited cellular plan. Most of us use such public Wi-Fi networks to for convenience and need. However, we ignore the fact that such Wi-Fi networks have several downsides.
In the digital world where everything is online, we should consider online privacy and security seriously before using Wi-Fi at cafes and airports.
Here’s why public Wi-Fi poses risks, including security and privacy concerns, performance issues, and alternatives that offer more protection.
One of the biggest threats with public Wi-Fi is the ability for hackers to position themselves between you and the connection point. Instead of communicating directly with the hotspot, your information goes to the hacker first, who can then access everything you send out – from emails to credit card details.
Evil Twin Networks
Cybercriminals often set up fake Wi-Fi hotspots to trick users into connecting to their networks instead of the legitimate one. With access, they can view all unencrypted information passed between you and the Wi-Fi router. Research found over 50% of UK airports had Wi-Fi networks that could not be verified as legitimate.
Public Wi-Fi is often completely open, with no password protection, making it easy for hackers nearby to access your devices and information. The lack of security means public networks are simple targets for distributing malware.
Any information you send over public Wi-Fi can be viewed by whoever controls the network. This includes:
- Usernames and passwords
- Bank and financial details
- Personal and work emails
- Private messages and photos
With access to this sensitive information, hackers can steal identities or commit fraud using your details.
Public Wi-Fi often suffers from:
- Overcrowded channels – Too many users in cafes/hotels creates congestion and slow speeds.
- Signal interference – Other Wi-Fi networks, devices, building materials etc can all weaken and disrupt signals.\
- Bandwidth constraints – Networks struggle to provide fast speeds consistently across many simultaneous users.
As a result, public Wi-Fi users frequently experience lag, buffering, connection drops and a generally sluggish experience.
Alternatives to Public Wi-Fi
Rather than compromising your security and privacy on public networks, consider the following alternatives:
- Cellular data – Mobile data plans provide secure connectivity wherever you go and avoid Wi-Fi risks.
- Mobile hotspots – Tether your smartphone to provide a personal Wi-Fi network for your devices.
- VPN – Encrypts your internet traffic to keep information secure on public networks. You can go for VPN trial for free to test the best service provider for you.
- Guest Wi-Fi – Some cafes provide managed guest networks that are more secure than public Wi-Fi.
Public Wi-Fi undoubtedly provides convenience for working on the go. However, convenience comes at the cost of security, privacy and performance. Before connecting, think carefully about the sensitive information you will access and whether public Wi-Fi is truly worth the risk. For better protection, make use of secure alternatives like VPNs, cellular data and personal hotspots.