Holidays can often mean hunting for free wi-fi hotspots in bars, hotels and restaurants to keep your mobile roaming bill under control. But there’s a sting in the tail with free hotspots – they’re not always very safe…
Free wi-fi is convenient when you’re on holiday, especially if you’re somewhere that your ISP charges you extra for data roaming, or if you can’t get a good enough signal to use your mobile data for getting online.
But there are risks: you could be logging on to a malicious ‘evil twin’ network, for example, or you could be inadvertently letting everyone else using the hotspot see into your laptop.
Or, if you’re outside the EU and thus outside the protections of the Europe-wide General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), you could have to hand over all kinds of personal data and agree to being sent loads of marketing emails in return for access to the wi-fi.
Free wi-fi in a shopping mall could also mean you’re being tracked closely as you wander in and out of the shops and your online activities logged.
Security experts are unanimous in saying that it’s best if you don’t use free wi-fi hotspots when you’re out and about, whether that’s at home in Britain or abroad.
We’ve got more detailed advice on using wi-fi hotspots safely in the August issue of Which? Computing, but here are some quick tips to help you stay safe while you’re out and about.
Check what you’re connecting to
When you fire up the wi-fi on your phone or laptop, you’ll see a list of available hotspots. Don’t just connect to the first one you see: if you’re in a restaurant or bar, ask them which one is their hotspot and ask them for the password.
If there isn’t a password or the staff aren’t sure which is their hotspot, it’s better not to connect at all.
No password means that anyone nearby can connect to it, whereas a password-protected network does at least limit it to people with the password.
A hotspot without a password could also be an ‘evil twin’ network – one that’s been set up by a hacker to steal your information.
Be careful what you do online
If you must connect to public wi-fi, don’t do any online shopping or banking unless you absolutely have to.
Scammers could intercept your login details while you browse, or hijack the hotspot to send you to a fake landing page designed to steal your passwords.
Look for HTTPS
Make sure any website you’re looking at is encrypted – that means it is exchanging information between your device and the website securely, and that a hacker can’t intercept it.
We’ve got more detail on how that works here on our Helpdesk website.
Consider using a VPN
Security experts recommend using a VPN all the time when you’re away from home. A VPN sets up a secure link via a trusted third-party server that can hide your location and your IP address, and make it look as if you’re connecting from another country.
We think it’s worth paying for a good VPN, as there are trade-offs that could impact your privacy if you use a free VPN. We’ve got some more information about VPNs and how to choose one here.
Do you rely on free wi-fi hotspots, or do you prefer to stick with your mobile data connection? And have you got any tips about how to stay safe when you’re connecting while you’re out and about?