It’s free, it’s speed is usually fast or acceptable, and it helps you pass the time. You can enjoy it when you’re outside, so you get the best of both worlds—being connected, while being out in the real world. That’s why, according to Norton’s 2016 Wi-Fi Risk Report, 86% of consumers globally have used public wifi on at least one of their devices.
But as we’ve said before, public wifi is not a godsend as most people assume. In fact, if you’re not careful what you’re doing online, you could find that it is quite dangerous.
Hackers and other opportunistic organizations can set up Evil Wifi Twin Hotspots to mimic the real wifi hotspot, or hackers can intercept your information in other ways. This risk is even greater when users partake in risky behaviors such as checking into their work accounts, making purchases, shared private information, etc.
In fact, 92% of Millennials partake in risky public wifi behavior, while 90% of parents do the same. The numbers are steep, considering 88% worry that someone may steal their information while using public wifi.
Today we’ll look at the top 10 most popular free wifi hotspots—great for getting your information stolen. Let’s review the likely risky online behaviour.
1. Restaurants & fast food places
One of the most popular “restaurant” locations out there, McDonald’s now offers free wifi to all its customers, along with download speeds that are usually double that of other fast food chains.
Other fast food places like Panera Bread, Buffalo Wild Wings, Dunkin Donuts and other international chains also offer free public wifi.
The group using these locations is very diverse – including Millennials, parents, teenagers and young adults. These groups are very likely to share their private information online using unsecured wifi.
2. Coffee shops
A very popular wifi hotspot is the local Starbucks or whatever local coffee shop most people enjoy. This is a particularly great choice because the wifi can be very attractive for its speed and the comfort and quiet in the coffee shop.
The people most likely to use the wifi there are students, young professionals, and under-40 professionals. These crowds display risky behavior in that they may check into their work accounts or make online purchases.
Places like the Apple Store, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble and other popular stores usually offer free wifi to their visitors. Most people here don’t browse the internet for an extended period of time, but they may still look at competitor products and even purchase them online.
4. Public library
Most people who go to their public library for free wifi are looking for a cheaper alternative to spending the whole day at a coffee shop where they’ll need to purchase some beverages. Public libraries offer a quiet, comfortable environment where it’s very easy to participate in risky online behaviors, including checking your social media accounts.
Ubiquitous in many places and rare in others, hotel free wifi may be complimentary for users. The audience for these locations is relatively general, though it may skew more towards the 18-50 crowd.
The risky behaviors associated with this is rather large, as most people use this free wifi similar to how they use their own home internet, where false sense of security can be particularly dangerous.
6. City Wi-Fi
Relatively new on the map, many cities are now giving away free wifi in certain hotspots. Although the wifi is free and can sometimes show good speeds, it is very easy for hackers to set up fake wifi hotspots to steal user information.
The Californian city of Santa Monica, for example, recommends users only use the city’s free wifi for “basic Internet surfing” and not send confidential or sensitive information over the free wifi.
Airports are a particularly easy target for hackers to get user information. They can easily hide amongst the comers and goers in the terminals. Although usually people do general Internet surfing to pass the time, they may also purchase last-minute deals or necessary items.
Amtrak, Megabus and other major transportation services offer free wifi to their customers. This is logical, as many riders will be spending long hours on these buses and train services.
This, however, is relatively risky because people will partake in risky behaviors the longer they have a connection, checking their personal accounts, work accounts, sharing private information and other things. Don’t think hackers won’t go to extents bypassing certain inconveniences like poor mobile quality on the transportation, purchase a bus or train ticket in order to get user information.
9. Public parks
Many people enjoy sitting in parks either to work or to take a break from work. While there, they may connect to some park free park wifi. This is risky because access to the parks are open to all users, for most of the day, and that means there’s more opportunities for hackers to get user information.
Most hospitals offer free wifi to its users. If you’re in the waiting room, chances are you won’t be participating in very risky behaviors as the environment isn’t usually suited for comfort. However, the free wifi for patients who are having to stay overnight or longer in the hospital means that those users will probably use that wifi as they would use their home networks.
There are two easy ways to keep yourself safe in terms of public free wifi: don’t use free wifi at all, or more practically, use a virtual private network, like NordVPN, to keep yourself safe while you’re online.
Its secure, encrypted connections will ensure your information is safe and even if it is intercepted, hackers won’t be able to use any of it without breaking that encryption first.
However, the best defense against hackers and opportunistic organizations is to not partake in risky behaviors at all and use common sense when connecting to free wifi.
Christina is a community manager and the heart, the voice and the soul of NordVPN. She is always up for a conversation with our community of users and blog readers.