How to keep data safe while using public Wi-Fi networks

man working on laptop at coffee shop
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Before UK lockdowns and restrictions, many of us only used public Wi-Fi networks for internet browsing. Checking the weather or news updates were the primary uses for these free-to-use networks dotted around city and town centres. 

However, since the pandemic more of us are working remotely than ever before. To keep ourselves and others safe from infection, thousands of us packed our things to begin working from home.

Even as restrictions eased, many employers continued to provide staff flexible working options. As a result, some remote workers are venturing into alternative spaces to complete their work outside the office. 

The rise of coffee shop workers

After remaining inside for so long, workers are taking opportunities to work in alternative spaces. Choosing to work in nearby coffee shops provides flexibility, a different work environment, and helps to support local businesses. With public Wi-Fi networks available at many of these locations, it’s no surprise remote workers have begun to vary where they work.

In a study conducted in London within 2020, remote workers expressed their reasons for migrating to coffee shops. Results showed that ‘workers experienced better productivity and motivation’ within these spaces and enjoyed the change of atmosphere. As some individuals can’t get the peace and quiet needed to complete work at home, these spaces provide an effective alternative.

Even before the pandemic, it was found that remote working outside of the home was increasing in popularity. With recent advancements in storing business data online and accessible from anywhere, the opportunities are endless.

Remote working does come with risks, however. As we connect to public Wi-Fi networks and log into our accounts, there is the potential for hackers to gain access.

free wifi sign on coffee table

The dangers of public Wi-Fi Networks

Although alternative working spaces have their benefits, the networks workers use to complete their work comes with risks. Man-in-the-middle attacks, fake networks, and shoulder surfing are all risks of working in public spaces which can be hard to monitor.

When we connect to a private network at home or work, we are assured that no other unknown users are accessing that same network. Unfortunately, we cannot have the same security in public.

Hackers often connect to public networks to view what we are doing on our devices and even gain access to our personal accounts.

For businesses, this puts confidential data at a huge risk. If you log in to an account or system on your device via a public Wi-Fi network, preventing others from viewing your information can be hard. Once stolen, there’s no telling who has access to your data, and it can be difficult to identify who the hacker is.

Along with this, fake Wi-Fis are sometimes used to trick users into logging into an unsecured network. By replicating a network name and changing a single letter or number, users can be easily tricked into connecting. Once your device is using that network, a hacker can view everything you are doing on the internet. 

Many of these networks need no password and sometimes have slow speeds. To prevent yourself from connecting to a fake public Wi-Fi network, read Keeping it Simple’s article here.

Preventing data breaches while on public networks

Luckily, not all networks are dangerous, and there are some ways remote workers can protect their data from hackers. Follow these useful tips to prevent an infiltration whilst still enjoying the benefits of out-the-office working:

Use a secure VPN

As hackers advance their attempts to steal our information, other businesses have advanced their protection against them. Systems such as Nord VPN provide a secure connection to any public Wi-Fi network and prevent risks of breaches. 

Use HTTPS sites

When browsing online, at home or otherwise, it’s wise to only access sites that have the HTTPS prefix before their URL. This lets users know that the site is secure and safe to use and is identifiable by a lock icon by the URL.

Avoid transferring files

Sending files across a public Wi-Fi network can be dangerous. To prevent files from being stolen by cybercriminals, avoid sending files to your coworkers until you have a secure private connection.

Is remote working here to stay?

While employees continue to work from locations on public Wi-Fi networks, there is always the risk of infiltration. Luckily, there are many ways to prevent a breach with VPNs and good basic practices.

To learn more about protecting your data from a cyberattack read our article: How and why to protect your business from cybercrime.

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