Using the free Wi-Fi in coffee shops, trains or other public places could be putting you at risk of hacking. That's according to a new report from cybersecurity firm Indusface, which has outlined some of the worst places you could connect to public Wi-Fi.
With 44% of UK workers now working remotely or in a hybrid role, many people are choosing to get things done outside the home office by working in places like cafes, coffee shops and even on public transport. However, the free or easily accessible nature of the Wi-Fi networks in these places also means people are more vulnerable to hackers than before.
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Coffee shops, cafes and restaurants are among the riskiest places, mostly because they see so many customers come and go every day who can all connect to the same shared Wi-Fi network. Hackers are reportedly able to exploit these networks and use them to access data from connected users, including web browsing activity, passwords, and even login details.
Hotels are also tricky as hackers can easily gain access to open hotel Wi-Fi systems and gain control of routers. The same issue applies on public transport, which can be targeted with malware attacks. Simply put, when you connect to train Wi-Fi, it could hook your device up to malicious software that can hijack your device, spy on you, or steal your private information.
How to stay safe while surfing the web in public
There are a few steps you can take to keep yourself protected while you're working on the move.
First things first, make sure you have a reliable antivirus app installed on your laptop or smartphone. There are tons of free security apps you can get which you can use to scan your device for malware or viruses. These include Avast, Malwarebytes, Kaspersky, AVG and more. Whatever antivirus you decide to use, just make sure to update it regularly.
If you really want to stay protected on public WiFi networks, most of these programs have additional paid features to keep you extra secure. For example, Avast One—which costs about £39.99 a year—gives you live protection features which actively scan for threats on the websites you visit, monitor your online accounts for any hacking incidents, and throws in a VPN. This is similar in scope to what other services like AVG and Kaspersky offer, so it's worth shopping around.
That brings us to the next point, which is using a VPN. You can buy subscriptions to services like NordVPN which essntially anonymise your web connection and make your personal data less visible to hackers and cybercriminals. Some VPN users also suggest that they're quite handy for watching streaming services like Netflix in other countries.
If you can't afford a VPN, then one very simple step you can take to keep working securely in public places is by using your smartphone's mobile hotspot. It's not going to be any more secure than your smartphone already is, and it will likely use up a fair wedge of your data allowance, but at the very least, you can password protect it. That's already a much stronger layer of protection than you'd get in a cafe with the WiFi password written on the wall.