Are public Wi-Fi hotspots safe to use?

As more and more of our digital lives are carried out on mobile devices, tablets and laptops, using public Wi-Fi hotspots has become more common. Whether in an airport lounge, coffee shop or simply in town centres, Wi-Fi hotspots are popping up everywhere – but there are important security considerations that you should be aware of before you sign-in.

  1. Even if you trust the organization running the hot-spot, you’re still potentially at risk

Even if you’re confident that the organization running the hotspot can be trusted, you can never be sure about other people using the service. It’s possible for someone on the same network to see what you’re doing or intercept usernames and passwords, so don’t assume you’re safe just because you know who’s running the network.

  1. Turn off network sharing

When at home on your own private Wi-Fi networks, you can set your devices to share files with others on the same network. But if you move to a Wi-Fi hotspot, make sure you disable network sharing – otherwise you could be granting anyone access to anything on your device.

  1. Use ‘HTTPS’ where possible when browsing

Most web site addresses start with ‘HTTP’. When you enter details onto a site like this on a Wi-Fi network, data is sent in plain text – meaning that it could potentially be intercepted. However, web addresses that start with ‘HTTPS’ – where the ‘S’ stands for secure – encrypt data passed from your computer to the network, so it’s safe. A lot of sites, such as Gmail or Facebook, will use HTTPS automatically – but always check before entering any sensitive or confidential information.

If you follow these tips but still aren’t sure if the network you’re using is safe, trust your instincts and log-off until you find something more secure.

If you have any other hints or advice, please share them in the comments.