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Using public wireless (or Wi-Fi) networks

Public Wi-Fi 'hotspots' in places like cafés, airports, hotels and libraries are convenient but, unlike your home computer, can be risky.

It's easy for the data traffic between Wi-Fi enabled devices and public Wi-Fi access points to be intercepted, so you need to be careful about what information you send or receive while connected and how.

Use this guidance to learn how to use public Wi-Fi networks safely.

Top tip: Avoid sending or receiving valuable or sensitive information when connected to public Wi-Fi networks.

Use a secure connection

Wherever you can, avoid using hotspots that are run by people or organisations you don’t know or trust. Criminals have been known to set up Wi-Fi hotspots in order to steal users' banking credentials, account passwords, and other valuable information.

  • Turn off network discovery options like “Remember networks this device has joined.”
  • On a laptop, make sure you're not sharing folders or devices with others on the Wi-Fi network. This should be managed automatically for you by your device’s operating system when you connect to a public Wi-Fi network.
  • Install a reputable virtual private network (VPN) solution  on your device.  When enabled this creates an encrypted ‘tunnel’ that allows data traffic to pass securely over public Wi-Fi networks.

If you can't connect securely, avoid:

  • online banking or shopping
  • sending confidential emails
  • entering passwords or credit card details unless you're using a secure website.

If you must make a sensitive transaction, only use secure websites that have:

  • https:// instead of http:// at the start of the address;
  • a locked padlock or key in the browser website address bar.

But remember, no public Wi-Fi is 100% secure, so consider using your own mobile data for any sensitive transactions.

Take extra precautions to secure your devices

When accessing the internet at a public Wi-Fi location, you should take extra precautions:

  • Ensure your phone, tablet or laptop has a reputable anti-virus installed.
  • Keep software patched and up-to-date with the latest release version, to ensure that any identified security holes have been closed.
  • Set-up two-factor or multi-factor authentication wherever possible. Online systems such as banks, Google Mail and Facebook offer this option for transactions or when logging into accounts. This way, a malicious hacker can’t log in without also having access to your phone or SMS inbox, even if they know your username and its associated password.

Find more information about securing mobiles and tablets.