Field with buttons that have the WiFi symbol one them with one highlighted

Public and free WiFi: Can I safely use it?

We’ve got into the habit of expecting internet access wherever we go. But data costs can be expensive, and out of your own home often the only WiFi available is public, passwordless and free.

In security, we’ve been trained to carefully contemplate anything that’s free, because, well, often when something is free, you turn out to be the product. So should we be concerned about free Wi-Fi?

A few years ago, we wrote:

“A WiFi connection’s safety depends on its security settings and the source of the WiFi connection. In public, using shared WiFi carries risks. If you have to use public WiFi hotspots, it’s wise to also use a VPN to keep your activity private while you use that connection.  A VPN wraps your network traffic (including web browsing, email, and other things) in a protective tunnel and makes up for any weaknesses in their encryption.”

While this is still basically true, the internet has changed since then. Most websites have switched to HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure), which means that any traffic to and from the website you are trying to access is encrypted. That means that it couldn’t be read by anyone trying to intercept the traffic in order to snoop on your data. 

So nowadays, my advice is this: For day-to-day use, I wouldn’t recommend setting up a new banking account over public WiFi, but I wouldn’t fret about using public Wi-Fi for everyday browsing either.

How to reduce public WiFi security risks

In order to see if a website is using HTTPS, check for the padlock symbol in the browser address bar, and make sure the website starts with “https://”.

If you really want to be sure, or you need to do something like set up a bank account, then you can use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to secure your traffic when using public WiFi.

By wrapping your traffic in a single, impenetrable tunnel, the best VPN services will keep your data safe from attempts to intercept your communications.

We don’t just report on encryption—we offer you the option to use it.

Privacy risks should never spread beyond a headline. Keep your online privacy yours by using Malwarebytes Privacy VPN.


Pieter Arntz

Malware Intelligence Researcher

Was a Microsoft MVP in consumer security for 12 years running. Can speak four languages. Smells of rich mahogany and leather-bound books.