7 Secure Strategies to Use Public Wi-Fi Safely on Phones

Christian Cawley 10-04-2017

You’re out and about, doing your shopping at the local mall. Or you’ve just checked into a hotel. Perhaps you’re at a theme park. Either way, there’s public Wi-Fi and you need to get online. You could use your data allowance, but it could be that you’re hitting the limit. Or you might be in a location with poor mobile reception.


Using public Wi-Fi is the only answer. But is it safe?

In your rush to get online, you might have overlooked the fact that the public Wi-Fi network could be unsafe 3 Dangers Of Logging On To Public Wi-Fi You've heard that you shouldn't open PayPal, your bank account and possibly even your email while using public WiFi. But what are the actual risks? Read More . Indeed, it might never have occurred to you that open Wi-Fi can be a risk. So before you sip your latte, and before you pull up Facebook on your phone, consider these simple secure strategies to using public Wi-Fi safely.

1. Keep Your Operating System Up to Date

Operating system updates aren’t just about delivering new features to your Android or iPhone. They’re sent out to harden the operating system, fix vulnerabilities, and prevent hackers from stealing your data.

android device update process
Image Credit: Bloomicon via Shutterstock

As such, it is vital that you install your operating system updates. Whenever a new iOS update comes along, download and install it to your iPhone. When Google pushes new updates, install them on your Android device. Concerned about storage limits? Free up Massive Space on Your Phone with 7 Photo Storage Services Thanks to smartphone photography and high-definition video phones run out of storage space very quickly. But there are popular cloud storage options and auto-upload features which can help us get some space back. Read More Back up or sync vital data to the cloud, then make the space, delete the apps, so that the updates can be downloaded and installed.


And this tip isn’t just for public Wi-Fi, it’s for everything. Keep your mobile operating system updated regardless!

2. Use Mobile Security Tools

Before using public Wi-Fi, you should ensure that your phone has suitable security software installed. While this doesn’t apply so much to iOS users, Android has a problem with malware Malware on Android: The 5 Types You Really Need to Know About Malware can affect mobile as well as desktop devices. But don't be afraid: a bit of knowledge and the right precautions can protect you from threats like ransomware and sextortion scams. Read More . Such software would provide a firewall, and malware scanning and removal Do You Need Antivirus Apps on Android? What About iPhone? Does Android need antivirus apps? What about your iPhone? Here's why smartphone security apps are important. Read More .

The reasons are clear. Should you connect to an unsecured open Wi-Fi network, you risk exposure to malware from other devices on the network. This might be accidental — perhaps a worm propagating itself from one infected device to another — or it might be intentional, sent by a malicious user who might be sat quite close by.

Mobile security apps can mitigate against this, protecting your device either by actively defending, or scanning and removing the offending malware. While most malware targets Windows computers, don’t overlook the fact that there are mobile-focused alternatives. Android in particular is as big a target for hackers and scammers as Windows. If you’re concerned about malware on your Android device, these tips will help you enhance your Android security 10 Ways to Enhance Smartphone Security and Beat Mobile Malware What would you do if your smartphone was stolen? Or worse, hacked into so that all of your personal data was stolen? Here are a few must-have tips to put into action. Read More .


3. Don’t Waste Time With a Slow Public Wi-Fi Network

Logged onto an open Wi-Fi network and found that your connection is slow? Trouble even making a connection to the sign-in page? Take care — or better still, disconnect.

7 Secure Strategies to Use Public Wi-Fi Safely on Phones muo security wifi mobile slow
Image Credit: pathdoc via Shutterstock

There is a chance that this sluggish speed is because the router has been compromised. Another explanation might be that you haven’t connected to the router at all, but to another device posing as the router. Speed may appear slow because data is being routed via the other device.

But what could the other device be?


Well, using public Wi-Fi opens you up to all sorts of cyber criminals. As well as “sniffing” your wireless signal for username/password information, scammers might configure their PC as a fake router. All they have to do is sit back and wait for someone to connect to their device by mistake. Any unencrypted passwords and other personal data that you then send can be captured, as can a history of the websites you visit. In short, these criminals can steal your identity 5 Ways Hackers Can Use Public Wi-Fi to Steal Your Identity You might love using public Wi-Fi -- but so do hackers. Here are five ways cybercriminals can access your private data and steal your identity, while you're enjoying a latte and a bagel. Read More .

4. Avoid Financial Transactions Without Protection

Online banking and shopping over an unsecure, public Wi-Fi connection is unsafe. Those sniffing scammers can use the tools at their disposal How People Are Hacking Wireless Networks & How To Protect Yourself Read More to make things very difficult for you the moment some unencrypted data heads their way. Naturally you should only shop with companies that keep your password secure Every Secure Website Does This With Your Password Have you ever wondered how websites keep your password safe from data breaches? Read More . It’s best that you avoid creating issues at your end.

So what can you do to ensure safety? One way is to switch to your own mobile internet connection, if possible, and conduct the transaction safely that way. You might also employ a VPN (see Tip 7 below for more details) to encrypt all your internet traffic.

If you’re using an online banking service, make you’re using your bank’s official app, and that it offers full encryption. Similarly, stick to official, secured apps for online shopping. If they’re not secure, don’t shop until you can be certain it’s safe!


5. Use Two-Factor Authentication Wherever Possible

We’re big fans of two-factor authentication What Is Two-Factor Authentication, And Why You Should Use It Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a security method that requires two different ways of proving your identity. It is commonly used in everyday life. For example paying with a credit card not only requires the card,... Read More here at MakeUseOf, and you should be too. This is the means why which you can be certain that you are communicating with the online service you think you’re using. Similarly, they can be certain that it is you trying to login, or make a banking transaction.

two factor authentication on ios

The two factors used in standard 2FA are usually something you know (your login credentials) and something you have (a generated code on your phone, or a text message sent via the online store, bank, or other service). Once correctly input, you can be certain that you’re using a genuine website.

Two-factor authentication is usually offered by security-savvy online companies. However, be aware that activity conducted after a two-factor sign in are easily observed by the owner of a fake router or network. As such, do not rely on this as your “fire and forget fix” for open Wi-Fi networks.

6. Disable Wi-Fi When You’re Done

This is a very simple idea, but one that many people just ignore. But switching off your smartphone or tablet’s wireless internet when you’re done is a great idea. Additionally, any internet connection sharing functionality — such as Windows 10 Mobile’s version of the WiFi Sense tool Does Windows 10's WiFi Sense Feature Represent a Security Risk? Read More — should be disabled before you connect.

With Wi-Fi disabled, any attempts to drop unwanted malware onto your device will fail. Nearby scammers trying to performing drive-by hacks will find their attempts hit a wall with no data connection to utilize. In short, this is one of the most decisive actions you can take to protect your smartphone on public Wi-Fi.

7. Don’t Connect to Public Wi-Fi Without a VPN

Much of the risk in using a public Wi-Fi can be minimized with the use of a VPN. Traditionally available only for desktops and laptops, many VPN providers now produce mobile apps. These handy clients can be used to connect to a secure VPN server, thereby encrypting your traffic as it leaves your device.

expressvpn on android

VPNs have many purposes 11 Reasons Why You Need a VPN and What It Is Virtual private networks can protect your privacy. We explain what exactly they do and why you should use a VPN. Read More from proxy avoidance to overcoming region blocking. They’re also the best security tool you have for browsing the internet in every sense.

Worries about the security of your financial transactions and purchases, and the possibility that you connected to a fake router, can all be dismissed. With a VPN, data security and privacy is assured, enabling you to stop worrying about the hackers. Our list of the best VPN providers The Best VPN Services We've compiled a list of what we consider to be the best Virtual Private Network (VPN) service providers, grouped by premium, free, and torrent-friendly. Read More  features services that offer mobile apps, although if you want a quick recommendation, look at ExpressVPN.

How do you keep your online activity safe and secure when using public Wi-Fi on your phone or tablet? Do you have any tricks we’ve overlooked here? Tell us about them in the comments.

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Related topics: Smartphone Security, Wi-Fi, Wireless Security.

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  1. Jessie
    April 11, 2017 at 11:38 pm

    Love ExpressVPN I've used a bunch of VPNs over the years and none were as reliable.