How safe is public WiFi?

When accessing public WiFi when you’re out and about, it’s important your data is protected. And with a new generation of freelancers and digital nomads working remotely or from their local cafe, that’s a lot more people leaving their data exposed.

It’s not just free public WiFi with no password needed (like McDonalds or Apple offer) its ones at your local cafe that are password protected you need to be careful of too. Remember it’s not just you on these WIFi networks, depending on the size of the shop or cafe you’re in there could be anywhere from two to twenty-plus people surfing the web. 

It’s such a shame laptops don’t come with cellular capabilities as standard like phones – it would make our lives so much easier!

So our internet WiFi options while out and about are: 

  1. Tether to our smartphone and risk draining our batteries after a few hours (iPhone we’re looking at you)
  2. Risk our security by accessing a public WiFi network unprotected
  3. Securely surf your local cafe WiFi with an active VPN (safe from prying eyes)

Option three requires some leg work e.g. you need to pick and purchase a VPN, and instal it. But after that, it’s set and forget once it’s set-up on your phone and laptop computer. 

What is a VPN?

A VPN or Virtual Private Network, in non-geek speak, is a way for you to securely surf the web without every website tracking your info like IP address, device type, browser type. The best thing about VPNs is they also enable you to access some regionally restricted websites. 

So that means if you’re a fan of US Netflix or UK TV, if you try to stream from Australia you might be blocked as your IP address shows as Australia, but with a VPN you can set yourself to UK or US and hey presto you can watch your favourite UK show like BBC 1s “Peaky Blinders”.

Free or Paid VPN?

There are some things in life that are great to get free e.g. free chocolate samples, it’s a risk-free way of trying something new. 

But there are some things that should not be sacrificed just to get something free. The word “FREE” has a special magic control over us, we see a product or service in a new light when the word ”free” is put in front of it, suddenly we need it! 

Please don’t opt for a free product or service just because it’s “FREE” but offers little of the protection you need (in the case of VPNs). 

This is your personal data, in the age of the internet, you need to protect your digital fingerprint or ID. You’re in the right headspace if you’re reading this blog, so don’t fall at the last fence, prioritise your data protection. Don’t risk your data for a free plan when paid only costs from $3 a month (that’s the price of one cup of coffee)

What Free VPNs really offer is bartering e.g. we’ll let you use our service for free in exchange we’ll capture your data, package it up and sell to advertisers. So don’t let your data get into the hands of those advertisers, the fewer companies with your data the better.

Why should you care about privacy?

You might be thinking “Why should I care about my privacy? I’ve nothing to hide” To quote the film Anon who sums it up perfectly:

“It is not that I have something to hide… I’ve got nothing I want you to see”

And to quote Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who has done the most to expose and explain the Edward Snowden files, in his TEDTalk “Why privacy matters” 

“For those who have nothing to hide, we have a special request. We know someone who would like you to send him all of your email addresses and their associated passwords… So far we haven’t had anyone who wanted to fulfil this request”. – Glenn Greenwald

So what are your options?

Privacy Austalia is a fantastic independent Australian resource with comprehensive VPN reviews and comparisons. Showing you what to look for in VPNs so you can confidently know which one to choose. They rate each VPN using 6 qualifying questions: 

  1. Where are they incorporated?
  2. Do they share your info?
  3. Is it a policy to log data? (if yes, big no go)
  4. Is it fast? (Slow VPNs aren’t worth using)
  5. Does it block (P2P) Peer-to-Peer applications? (If so no more Netflix)
  6. How many devices connections? (1 device to unlimited)

In their latest review for 2019 the top 3 VPNs worth mentioning are:

  1. NordVPN
  2. SurfShark VPN
  3. ExpressVPN

In summary 

So to wrap it up, when you’re out and about, you’re leaving yourself exposed online by accessing public WiFi without a VPN. Your data privacy shouldn’t become a priority after you’ve been hacked. So even if you get a VPN just for US Netflix access its worth it. And if you’re not confident about selecting and installing a VPN, Buzz-A-Geek is here for you.

Featured photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

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