The advent of Wi-Fi in our century has changed the face of the world as we know it. The Internet links the entire globe together, a collective consciousness of information, connection, and awareness.
On the technical side, however, this also means our digital cubicles are more open and exposed.
With our Internet now being an invisible wave of signals and data without any wires, chances are the threats associated with it are similarly invisible as well.
Hotel Wi-Fi, or Wi-Fi at any public place (especially when free and unprotected without a password), brings with itself myriads of potential security issues.
It can be very unsafe, especially, to use the hotel Wi-Fi for important tasks, such as bank transfers or sending sensitive files.
In general, it’s a good rule to avoid wi-fi hotspots. It doesn’t take a lot of technical know-how to eye open connections on such a network, or even to fish (Phish) out passwords, files, emails, bank account details, you know it.
Perhaps the best way to secure your device from someone snooping on your data, before we even begin to understand how such a thing is possible, is running a VPN on it.
Use a VPN to secure your device
A Virtual Private Network essentially masks your online identity and gives your Internet an extra layer of protection.
The way a VPN works is through routing your data through a tunnel of their own dedicated servers instead of the (primarily) unsecured connection that you’re actually using to connect to the Internet. Since other users are all sharing the same information “highway,” someone can veer into your lane and cause damage. A VPN, however, is like your own private lane.
VPN encryption is also more secure than the one your usual hotel wi-fi is likely to have to protect their network. Most VPNs will give you your own choice of which protocol to choose (Point to Point, IPSec, SSL/TLS), making you more in control of your connection.
Some VPNs offer premium features for higher payment plans, like in-built firewalls or sturdier encryption: this PureVPN overview is a good example of how different VPN products can offer different benefits better suited to your needs.
While it doesn’t make you indestructible, it makes you safer than sorry, and you should still take all the necessary precaution. Hacking into a VPN requires more time, money and effort than it would for your regular hotel wi-fi.
Understand what makes your hotel wi-fi unsafe
Simply put, think of it as a loud conversation in public that anyone who speaks the language can understand. Just as with all other electromagnetic transmissions, it’s open to being intercepted.
What’s more, a lot of the commonly used websites and apps you’d be accessing aren’t secure enough on their own to keep your online communication with their servers encrypted.
More than this, every time your phone automatically connects to an open Wi-Fi in a hotel (or if you’re hooking up your device to something in there via Bluetooth), it might just be without you realizing (and without your authorization, essentially).
You can see why that would be bad. Remember to remove a public connection (Wi-Fi or Bluetooth) from your device once you’ve used it. The “convenience” is simply not worth the risk. The numbers speak for themselves.
Many hotels, of course, have a captive portal.
You might recognize it as that page which shows up to have you enter personal details when you sign in on a public network. While this might be a small step up, don’t rely on it. The Electronic Frontier Foundation explains more.
Use your mobile data plan wherever possible
Another good idea is to transmit data over your mobile’s data plan. While that’s similarly open to its own dangers, we’re looking at how many steps you can take to secure yourself. For that, it’s best to avoid public Wi-Fi altogether.
Of course, you don’t need to do all your browsing on your phone and rack up data bandwidth usage charges. Being vigilant, however, and using it where you need to enter bank details, credit card information, send personal pictures or emails, is a practice that you should get into the habit of.
Utilize the HTTPS protocol on the sites you visit
If you know the address for most websites starts with HTTP, you might be able to guess what the extra “s” at the end adds. It stands for secure.
As a rule of thumb, if you’re entering some sensitive information (again, such as credit card information) on a site that does NOT begin with https, stay away.
A lot of websites will have an https version available if you manually type that in the address bar. Browsers like Chrome and Opera even have extensions such as HTTPS Everywhere that will force the website you’re on to switch to the secure version.
However, with the fact that many apps and services on your phone or laptop come linked with your personal information and reload and refresh, send and receive information in the background all without your knowledge, this HTTPS thing is merely an important precaution, not a cure-all.
It’s important to accumulate this knowledge (and all else that you can find) and be vigilant. Use a VPN, don’t trust the Wi-Fi, and make sure you keep a mindful track of what you do online in a public space.