At the airport, in a coffee shop or hotel lobby? Think twice before logging on to that free Wi-Fi.

What’s not to love about free, public Wi-Fi? It’s free. It’s easy. A couple of clicks and you’re connected to the world.

When you’re on the go, there will always be a need to check your email, send a document to a client, touch base with someone in the office, or review the balance in your bank account. You can take care of life’s business from almost anywhere, and public Wi-Fi makes it easy.

It’s ease of use makes it a boon to hackers, as well. While you’re taking care of business, so are they.

Earlier this week, I was interviewed by Leonard Lee of Thomson Reuters Legal Current for a 20-minute podcast titled “Dangers of Public Wi-Fi”. We discussed some of the things that can happen when you’re using public Wi-Fi, including:

  • Spoofing. Rogue computers can spoof you, pretending to be something they’re not, and capture your data when you click on their link.
  • Capturing passwords. More sophisticated hackers can enter your device stealthily and monitor everything you do (capturing keystrokes to passwords, for example).
  • Depositing malware. Hackers can also deposit malware into your computer. This can endanger not only your own data – if you’re connected to your company’s network you’re risking the integrity of data shared by everyone back in the office.
  • Peeking the old fashioned way. And remember, in a public place it’s still possible for hackers to perform a hack the old fashioned way – by looking over your shoulder and reading your screen.

The safest way to go? Don’t use public Wi-Fi.

Many companies have policies against the use of public Wi-Fi for company-issued devices (or for any personal device that can log into the company’s system). Companies without such policies should consider implementing them.

What should you do when you’re in a public place and need to access the Internet, or a document from your office?

  • Use a hotspot device to create your own Wi-Fi. Many companies issue hotspot devices to executives, sales people, and anyone traveling on company business.
  • Use a virtual private network (VPN) that encrypts your data. Many companies have VPN’s for logging into their systems remotely. They are easy for the end user, and provide security for the company and its data.
  • Trust your instincts. If you’re unsure the electronic environment is safe, it probably isn’t. If you see something unusual in your email or on your screen, treat it with a high degree of suspicion.