There’s a common misunderstanding about how Wi-Fi relates to your computer’s security. Wi-Fi is basically the access road to the internet. Once data is released into Wi-Fi, the security of your computer can no longer protect that data. There are secured Wi-Fi channels, which means that you must enter a password to connect, and then there are public Wi-Fi channels which are open to anyone to use.
I’m explaining all this because there are a lot of misunderstandings in relation to public Wi-Fi. Your security software only protects your computer. Once you begin using public, or open, Wi-Fi to transfer documents or other personal information, it’s no longer in your hands, nor necessarily private.
Not all public Wi-Fi is bad, but use caution when working on sensitive tasks. Think about any site that requires a password, such as banking websites or social media. If you enter a password through an open Wi-Fi network, that password is visible to other computers (or people) using the same network.
There is a trend where criminals will set up fake Wi-Fi networks and then use them to spy on those who connect. The scam is commonly called Man in the Middle, where a criminal can set up the ability to see your actions and get items like usernames and passwords to accounts. This can happen through public Wi-Fi, or even secure and encrypted connections.
Even if you recognize the public Wi-Fi access point (let’s say at a friend’s coffee shop), you still can’t trust the other people that are using it. Public Wi-Fi is usually an open system and allows anyone to join, so your computer, tablet, or phone become easy targets. The best things you can do to ensure safety is to make sure you recognize your Wi-Fi network before connecting. Also, use secured Wi-Fi over public Wi-Fi where possible.
Remember the phrase “There’s no such thing as a free lunch?” It means the cost of doing business always has relevance to perceived value. The same is true for Wi-Fi. There are reasons why public Wi-Fi should exist, but privacy shouldn’t be expected when using your devices.