How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi: Five Simple Steps

I love to write at cafes and coffee shops. There’s something about setting up shop at a little table and working in the bustling cafe environment that halts my procrastination and gives me a  much-needed boost of productivity. The easy access to caffeine isn’t too bad, either (as most parents probably understand). There is one downside to working at a cafe, however, and it’s only two words long: public Wi-Fi.

Did you feel a shudder run down your spine, or was it just me? 

The thought of working on public Wi-Fi is enough to strike terror in the hearts of IT security specialists and concerned parents everywhere. While public connections are easy and convenient, they aren’t the most secure way to connect to the World Wide Web. Because public Wi-Fi connections are open to anyone, it’s easy for hackers to sneak into your family’s devices and steal important information. 

Despite the security risks of using public Wi-Fi, it’s sometimes a necessity (and the 87% of Americans who readily connect to public Wi-Fi might agree). If your kiddo is the proud owner of a kid-friendly Troomi phone, for example, they need to be connected to Wi-Fi to take full advantage of the many cool apps and features. Thankfully, it’s easy to stay safe on public Wi-Fi—all it takes is a few precautions. 

So if your family is wondering how to stay safe on public Wi-Fi, look no further than this trusty list of Troomi tips.

How Secure Is Public Wi-Fi?

Before we get into the meat of the article, let’s talk a little bit more about public Wi-Fi. Just how secure is it?

Short answer: not very.

Long answer: public Wi-Fi is pretty insecure. While your family’s at-home connection is likely encrypted and locked up with a strong router password, public Wi-Fi isn’t able to offer the same protections. Because these connections are open, anyone can access them. This means that other users on the network (i.e. hackers) can peek into your child’s device and see what they’re up to, stealing bits of information along the way. 

How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi

Now that we’ve covered the basics of public Wi-Fi, let’s look at some ways to make your family’s public web surfing a bit more secure. 

1. Don’t Access Sensitive Information on Public Wi-Fi

This tip is an absolutely vital one: don’t access secure information like finances or sites that might reveal a child’s location, birthdate, and other personal information on public Wi-Fi. 

Because public Wi-Fi connections are open and often unencrypted, others on the same connection can hijack your device and see the information that you see. If you decide to do some banking, for example, a hacker might be able to steal the password to your online bank account, meaning they can see your bank account number and how much money you have in there. Talk about sketchy! 

The same goes for websites that save and store passwords and credit card numbers—just don’t access them! I hate to be the one to break it to you, but shopping online is also a big no-no on public Wi-Fi.

2. Connect Only to Secure and Encrypted Websites 

When scrolling through social media or other websites that require a login on public Wi-Fi, show your kids how to ensure that the website is secure. It’s easy: just peek at the web address at the top of your browser. If there’s a little padlock next to the site (like the one pictured below), it’s secure and encrypted! This isn’t the only way to check, though. If the web address begins with https, it’s secure. If it begins with http, on the other hand, the site is not secure and you should sign off right away.

This is a pretty simple process, so even the youngest computer users should have no problem verifying that they’re connected to a secure website!

3. Keep Your Internet Browser Up-to-Date

Like most applications, Internet browsers have to be updated pretty regularly to ensure that they have the highest security features available. Do a quick check and make sure that your device’s browser is up-to-date before you and your kiddos connect to public Wi-Fi. 

It’s pretty easy to do so: just head to your browser’s settings menu. If your family uses Google Chrome, like I do, click on “About Chrome” to prompt the browser to automatically search for updates. Microsoft Edge and Firefox work the same way, while Safari requires that you go to the “System Preferences” menu, where you can then click on “Software Update.”

4. Use a VPN

Whenever I hit up a coffee shop to get some writing done, I make sure that I have a VPN turned on before I connect to public Wi-Fi—and your family could benefit from doing the same. 

A VPN (which stands for virtual private network) is an encrypted connection sent from your device to the Internet that makes public networks private. Basically, VPNs give you the chance to surf the web in public while hiding any sensitive information from prying eyes. High-quality VPNs do cost a bit of money, though, so do some research before you commit to purchasing a private network. Start your research by reading our blog post all about VPNs here!

5. Forget Public Networks When You’re Done

Once you and your kiddos are finished using public Wi-Fi, there’s one final thing you should do before you leave: disconnect from the network and tell your device to forget it. 

If you or your child’s device doesn’t forget the connection after disconnecting, it will automatically reconnect to the same public Wi-Fi as soon as it’s back in range. While this can be convenient if you’re a frequent visitor somewhere, it can also lead to some issues. 

Firstly, whenever you’re in the vicinity of the Wi-Fi (even if you’re not actively on your device), hackers can take advantage of the connection to compromise your security. Secondly, multiple public Wi-Fi networks may utilize the same name and connection type. If your teen’s device remembers the Wi-Fi at the Starbucks near your house, for example, it may automatically connect to public Wi-Fi when they visit another location. 

Your family can avoid this issue by simply forgetting public Wi-Fi as soon as you’re done using it. No sweat, right?

It’s Easy to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi

In 2022, a reliable Internet connection is something of a necessity. After all, we use the Internet for all sorts of things from exercising our brains to connecting with faraway friends and family. It makes sense that when your family is out in public, you may need to gain a quick connection via public Wi-Fi. Before you do so, however, take a second to remember these five tips and remind your kiddos how to stay safe on public Wi-Fi. If you’d rather access private Wi-Fi within your home, but can’t quite make ends meet, check out these low-income Internet programs.

And don’t forget to swing on back to the Troomi blog for more technology tips and tricks!