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Security risks of public Wi-Fi — and how to protect yourself

Using public Wi-Fi is convenient — but it’s also risky. In this article, learn how to minimize the security risks when using public Wi-Fi and protect your data from hackers.

4 min read

These days, free Wi-Fi is available almost anywhere you go. It's certainly convenient: We can work, communicate, and access our data at any time, whether we’re in a café, a restaurant, or a bookstore, not to mention airports and hotels. But is it safe to use these open networks? What security risks does using a public Wi-Fi connection pose to you and your data? 

In this article, we explain the risks of using public Wi-Fi and give you a few tips on how you can keep your data safe from hackers. Let's jump in!

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Dangers of using public Wi-Fi connections

Can using public Wi-Fi actually be dangerous? It might sound dramatic, but online security is serious business. Public Wi-Fi networks don't require any authentication before a user gets access to the network. This means that anyone can join the network, and if you haven’t secured your data properly, any users in the same network can access it — including hackers.

To understand more about how hackers work over public Wi-Fi, let's look at what tactics they use to get to your data.

Types of hacking attacks over public Wi-Fi

Connecting to free Wi-Fi is a bit like going to the gym and leaving your things inside an unprotected locker: Anyone could potentially open it and get your stuff if they know which lockers are open.

And often, a public Wi-Fi connection is just that: a locker with the door obviously hanging open. By targeting open networks, hackers can intercept everything you access or enter online: work emails, bank account information, login details — the list goes on. Just like that unprotected gym locker, they don’t even need to work very hard to get access to this information.

Not only that, but they can also use the open connection to distribute malware, damaging your computer and further compromising your data security. 

How to protect your data on public Wi-Fi connections

There's no denying that using free Wi-Fi is convenient, though. The good news is that there are a few safety measures you can use to keep your data safer while using a public network. Here are some suggestions for better security:

1. Use a VPN

Using a virtual private network (VPN) makes your connection more secure because it encrypts your data. This ensures that no one — not even a hacker — can access your data directly (the only way would be to put it through a long decryption process, which is complex and unlikely). But be mindful if you’re using a VPN while traveling: Some countries, like China, Russia, and Turkey, have banned this type of software.

Bonus tip: Make sure your passwords are strong and secure!

2. Prioritize SSL connections

With or without a VPN, you can boost your connection security by enabling the "Always Use HTTPS" option in your web browser. This means that data is sent securely between a web server and the web browser — which is extremely relevant if you're using public Wi-Fi to access your bank account or shop online. 

If you see the unlocked padlock symbol in your browser’s address bar, your connection isn’t secure and your data could be compromised.

3. Turn off your Wi-Fi

Yes, you read that correctly! Public Wi-Fi is so convenient that it will often connect automatically — and transmit your data — when any known network is within range of your device. That's why you should turn off Wi-Fi when you're not using it. 

Keeping your Wi-Fi off is especially relevant for your phone, because it moves around with you. Every time you’re near a known open network — for example, if you stand outside a café where you’ve connected to public Wi-Fi in the past —  you might connect to it automatically. If you have background app refresh options on, your phone could be sending and receiving sensitive information even when it’s deep in your pocket, giving hackers possible access. Mobile networks are often more secure, so turn on data on your phone to access important information instead.

However, remember that even safety measures like these can't guarantee that you’ll never have a security issue. Keep your computer and mobile updated with the latest software, always scan downloads, and run a malware scan from time to time to increase your data safety. 

Your financial security at N26

At N26, your security is our priority. Besides security features like 3D Secure and biometric authentication that are included with your N26 account, we regularly update our blog with articles about the latest online fraud tactics and how to protect yourself. Learn how to protect your debit card from fraud, how to use mobile banking safely, and much more, including our financial resolutions for your safest year yet.

If you think your account has been compromised, get in touch with our dedicated Customer Support team immediately — we’re here to help. 

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