Free Wi-Fi is dicey: how to safely access the Internet when traveling

Free Wi-Fi is irresistible for many travelers but it carries risks.

The Portland, Oregon office of the FBI earlier this month put out an advisory on travel scams, with free Wi-Fi at the top of their list of concerns, citing an FTC advisory.

The key takeaway is that never assume that free Wi-Fi at airports, coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, and other public places is safe.

The inconvenient truth is that the internet was created as a medium for easy information exchange, so privacy and security are often vulnerable.  And hackers love public wireless hotspots because it’s a relatively easy way to intercept and steal your personal information.

If you must use public Wi-Fi, avoid accessing bank accounts, doing online shopping that requires credit card purchases, and generally sending sensitive personal information.

Be smart about using public Wi-Fi while traveling.

Be smart about using public Wi-Fi while traveling. (iStock)

Also, don’t stay signed into a website or account. Log out when you’re done. And don’t use the same password across different websites. If a hacker gets into one account, that could give them access to multiple accounts that use the same password, according to the FTC’s advisory.

Even better, shun public Wi-Fi altogether and connect to the Internet via your carrier’s 4G/LTE connection (and in the coming years 5G).

Though 4G “can be compromised…it is much more difficult to hack than public Wi-Fi, which attackers mainly have their sights set on,” according to a Symantec advisory entitled, “How safe is surfing on 4G vs. WiFi?”

Overall, the most secure way to connect is a virtual private network (VPN), which essentially creates a private connection, where your traffic is routed through an encrypted “tunnel.” That means no one can see your web traffic. “A virtual private network…should be a must for anyone concerned about their online security and privacy,” according toSymantec.

There are many VPN services to choose from but be careful because some are not very reputable.

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Most people don’t know what a safe connection is

A sizeable 60 percent feel their personal information is safe when using public Wi-Fi, yet 53 percent can’t tell the difference between a secure or unsecure public W-Fi network, according to the Norton Wi-Fi Risk Report done in 2017.

And 87 percent of consumers “have potentially put their information at risk while using public Wi-Fi,” according to Symantec.

A whopping 75 percent of consumers don’t use a Virtual Private Network to secure their Wi-Fi connections, Symantec said.

[“source=foxnews”]