Public Wi-Fi - dos and don'ts

Jordan Carter13 March 2019
A blog post by Jordan Carter, InternetNZ Chief Executive

Wi-Fi: Use it, don’t? This question has often occurred to me when flying to a conference - or sitting at it.

The seductive lure of connectivity when you didn't used to have it is a clear hint about why the idea of “Wi-Fi in the sky” is such a winner.

I can still remember early offerings on Emirates, travelling to events far away, where USD$10 could buy you 10 megabytes of data. Other airlines are catching up, and our very own Air New Zealand is now offering the service on some flights.

Similarly, whatever event you go to these days, the event or the venue is often offering a Wi-Fi experience. From bars to restaurants to libraries to tertiary institutions — and beyond — it’s a rare moment when you don’t find a Wi-Fi signal if you look for it on your phone.

So, what are some tips to keep yourself safe using public Wi-Fi?

My own starting point is when I am on a public Wi-Fi network that anyone could join, I make sure I'm using a virtual private network application (VPN). That way, my traffic isn’t open for observation by others on the network.

VPN applications are easy for mobile phone users and reasonably straightforward for laptop users too. If you’re carrying your desktop computer to a public Wi-Fi venue, this blog post isn’t for you. Some examples I’ve used  no warranty or assurance offered  include Private VPN and Open VPN.

Back in the days when I didn’t use VPN applications, I had some basic rules on public wireless.

  • I wouldn’t do online banking or use other very sensitive applications. I can’t be the only one who isn’t that informed about what apps do on the security side and how safe they are.
  • I wouldn’t write an email that contained confidential information. (I wouldn’t do that outside our system anyway, since non-encrypted email isn’t very secure).
  • I’d be fine checking social media and news sites. Consuming publicly available content seems pretty low risk. 

Those are my practices, I’m curious about yours...

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