Thanks to the cyber criminals of the world, the convenience of public Wi-Fi networks come with some risk. Here, some tips to keep your confidential information safe.

Whether we’re getting some work done at a local café or bored out of our tree at the airport, free public Wi-Fi is always a welcome sight.

Unfortunately, cyber criminals find these networks just as convenient. Ruby Gonzalez, communications manager at Nord VPN, a company that provides users with high-level encryption for their internet traffic, says that it only requires novice hacking skills to access phones and other devices connected to a public network.

“They can scan the network for a list of all IPs connected and then they can install software on the devices and capture confidential information,” Ruby explains. “That’s always been the case with unsecured wireless networks.”

There are ways however, to keep your public Wi-Fi surfing as safe as possible.

Here, five ways to protect yourself.


1. Shop and bank at home

Avoid using public networks for online banking, shopping and anything that involves entering sensitive information.

Hackers who connect to public Wi-Fi may use something called a wireless sniffer, which allows them to intercept and decode data sent and received over a public network.

2. Treat your phone like it’s a computer

Unfortunately phones aren’t impervious to the threats of cyber hackers. In fact, Ruby says that phones are at an increased risk, mainly due to a lack of security.

“They (users) don’t often have anti-virus protection or anti-malware firewall,” she explains. “The dangers are very much the same.”

For those who need to send sensitive information over public Wi-Fi, she suggests using a VPN, which encrypts any information sent to and from a device.


3. Watch out for honeypot networks

You can’t trust just any public Wi-Fi network that pops up on your phone. The most common way a hacker gains access to your information is through public Wi-Fi Hotspots that they set up themselves called honeypots.

By connecting to one of these networks, you give a hacker direct access to any information sent or received from your device.

These honeypot networks aren’t easy to spot either. Hackers will often set up shop at cafés and use the name of the establishment as the network name with only slight variances that go unnoticed.

To avoid connecting to one of these networks, it’s best to confirm the name of the public network with staff.

4. Change your settings

It may save your data, but it’s best to turn off automatic network connection. Manually connecting to a network will allow you to weed out any suspicious looking hotspots.

Be sure that your phone’s sharing settings are turned off as well. While these setting are often in the off position by default, they may have been left on from a previous data transfer with another device.


5. Keep an eye out for shoulder surfers

Unfortunately, cyber criminals don’t always hide behind their keyboards.

This is why it’s best to be aware of your physical surrounding as well. If you need to use your phone to enter sensitive information, be sure to treat your phone like you would your pin number at the ATM.

Cyber criminals will often look over your shoulder and memorize sensitive information like credit card numbers, banking information and passwords.