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Public WiFi Risks: How to stay safe and our #1 recommendation for working while traveling

June 30, 2022


Worries about public WiFi risks and how to work safely while traveling? You're not alone. We get lots of questions about working safely while traveling. Typically these sorts of articles will reveal the benefits of using a VPN while traveling, and although that advice is usually sound, our main recommendation may surprise you. 

Public WiFi Risks: What’s the big deal?

It’s rare to find a restaurant or public place that doesn’t offer free WiFi. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe. We have an article all about WiFi security at home, which involves installing router updates, changing the default username and password (which unfortunately is usually just ‘password’!) and more. Guess what - most public places probably haven’t done these simple security measures either.

There are many risks to using public WiFi, including

  1. Man-in-the-Middle Attacks- where an attacker captures all of your traffic to steal personal info or payment details and to install malware or spyware
  2. Hacker WiFi Hotspots - where a cybercriminal creates an unsecured hotspot with the name of a nearby business, in order to trick you to connect to their hotspot
public wifi risks

Staying Safe Online when Using Public WiFi

Here are some tips for staying safe online:

  1. Use strong passwords and multi-factor authentication. We consider strong passwords to be 12+ characters, a mix of symbols, numbers, and letters, and perhaps most importantly, unique! You should not use the same password for multiple sites. Multi-factor authentication adds another layer of security by requiring you to input a code in addition to your password. 
  2. Consider using a VPN, which will securely encrypt your internet traffic. Our CISO recommends a service called Mullvad. Check out the NY Times article about VPN options: 
  3. Encrypt your devices. That way, if someone were to gain access to your device, the data would be encrypted.
  4. As always, be on the lookout for phishing attacks and be cautious before clicking any links.

Avoid Public WiFi Risks: Our Recommendation

Using a VPN while traveling is a great option most of the time. But what do we typically recommend?

Using your cell phone as a hotspot!

While nothing's "hack-proof", we haven't heard of any successful attacks at a large scale against the cell phone company's networks.

Here are some common travel situations and our typical recommendations:

Airplane: When on an airplane, you can generally feel comfortable using the airline’s wifi network. Generally, a VPN service isn’t required, unless you urgently need to do something truly sensitive (like log in to online banking). But if you’re on a plane just doing email and documents, you can use the airline’s wifi and wait on the more sensitive stuff until you’re on a trusted network.    

Hotel: If you’re in a hotel, it is recommended to use your cellphone hotspot almost all of the time.  If there's terrible cell phone service, then you may use the hotel's wifi after confirming the exact network name with the front desk. Using a VPN in this situation would be preferable. 

Away from the office: If you’re in another location (say, a coffee shop), it's the same order. It is a better idea to use your mobile data most of the time. If you can't, you may use the wi-fi plus VPN after confirming the name with the staff.  Honestly, some users take the risk if it's at a Starbucks, where you recognize the name, but we would never ever recommend taking the risk of connecting to their wi-fi (even with VPN) if it's just some random coffee shop.  Please keep in mind that you should only ever do something sensitive (like online banking) on a network that you know and trust, or on your mobile hotspot.


Overall, be extra cautious when doing work from a remote location. If you’re dealing with any sensitive data, using your mobile hotspot is the best solution. Otherwise a VPN connection can help protect you and your data. There are unfortunately very real and disastrous public WiFi risks that you need to be aware of.

How Adelia Risk can help

As part of our Virtual CISO service, we help train your staff on working safely while traveling in order to avoid public WiFi risks. We typically work with small and medium sized businesses in highly regulated industries like financial services, healthcare, or government contracting.

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