Is Public Wi-Fi Safe?

The sad truth is that public Wi-Fi networks are not safe. Because they aren’t secured, information shared over a public Wi-Fi network is highly vulnerable and can be intercepted easily. Even public networks that require a password can be risky, because the network is still being shared by lots of unknown people. But all hope is not lost—there are things you can do to make an outing on public Wi-Fi safer.

Master your smart devices with our weekly newsletter
Sign up to get the latest smart home tips and reviews directly in your inbox.

By signing up, you agree to our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Pick the Right Public Wi-Fi Network

Not all public Wi-Fi networks are created equally. Some are more secure than others, and the best way to tell is how much area the network covers. Free Wi-Fi at Starbucks or McDonald’s is probably safer than the free network at the airport. It comes down to numbers—there are going to be fewer people online at Starbucks than at the airport. If you are traveling, look for smaller Wi-Fi hotspots at individual airport merchants and restaurants.

Stop Sharing

Whether you’re using your smartphone, tablet, or laptop, make sure to go into the settings and turn off all sharing settings. When you’re on a public network you don’t want your device or files to be discoverable. If you have an Apple product, go to System Preferences > Sharing and uncheck all boxes. For Windows devices, open the Control Panel and go to Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center, and select Change Advanced Sharing Settings. Then turn off network discovery, public folder sharing, and file and printer sharing.

Use a VPN

Virtual Private Networks (VPN) are a great solution if you need to use a public Wi-Fi network. These handy tools hide and encrypt the information that passes between your device and the internet. It takes a few extra steps to log into the VPN, but it’s a small hassle when compared to the potential damage if your personal data were to get hacked. You can find options that are affordable and easy to install, like NordVPN.

Keeping your information private on a public Wi-Fi network takes a little planning, but it’s worth it to avoid having your personal details stolen. Follow the best practices here, and find out about additional security measures like antivirus software and identity theft protection.


Compare the best identity theft protection services

Best comprehensive Best individual coverage Best family coverage Best budget pick Best insurance coverage
Brand
Identity Force Logo 2019IdentityForce
ReliaShieldReliaShield
Identity GuardIdentity Guard
ZanderZander
LifeLockLifeLock
Starting price

$9.99/mo.

$7.19/mo.

$6.67/mo.

$6.75/mo.

$8.99/mo.

Recovery insurance

$1 million

$1 million

$1 million

$1 million, lost wages up to $30k

$1 million, reimbursement up to $1 million

Family plan
Icon Yes  Light

Yes

Icon Yes  Light

Yes

Icon Yes  Light

Yes

Icon Yes  Light

Yes

Icon No  Light

No

Dark-web monitoring
Icon Yes  Light

Yes

Icon Yes  Light

Yes

Icon Yes  Light

Yes

Icon Yes  Light

Yes

Icon Yes  Light

Yes

Credit monitoring available
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  Light

Yes

Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  Light

No

Included w/ base plan

*Amazon.com price as of 4/8/2021 at 9:10 a.m. (MT). Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. Safewise.com utilizes paid Amazon links.

Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past eight. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime reports and spotting trends. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, NPR, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips.

Recent Articles

couple sitting on floor with moving boxes and a dog
Best Home Security Systems for Renters
These renter-friendly home security systems keep your house or apartment safe and require less commitment...
Neighbourhood homes in the United Kingdom
The Best Home Alarm Systems in the UK
Find the right alarm system to protect your UK home. SafeWise recommends security systems for...
Large craftsman style house at twilight with lights on
Best Home Security Systems of 2021
After hundreds of hours of tests and research, plus a combined 50+ years of experience,...
SimpliSafe UK Home Alarm Review
SimpliSafe combines the convenience of DIY purchase and installation with the comfort of professional monitoring....