Skip to content

Trending tags

Using Public WiFi Without a VPN Leaves Data Naked

Jason Sattler

05.05.17 3 min. read

Public Wi-Fi is irresistible. Literally irresistible.

From Punjab to Washington D.C., officials are doing everything they can to deliver the connectivity that draws people into public spaces. The EU is even considering spending €120 million to help“local authorities and providers of public services”offer free, open Wi-Fi. Why? Because it will “help to bolster the development of a more inclusive European digital society.”

We love the feeling of connection that comes from being able to jump into a Wi-Fi network with as little hassle as possible. It’s so irresistible that we discovered that people were willing to give up their first-born child — or at least click through a terms and condition screen with that demand — to get their free Wi-Fi.

But when it comes to the public Wi-Fi networks so many of us have come to rely upon, there’s a fine line between inclusion and exposure.

You like being in public because, perhaps, there’s a chance someone attractive might come up to you to ask for your phone number. But you wouldn’t want your phone number revealed to anyone who decides to hack into your personal online space as you sip your tea.

To demonstrate this, we sent a “hacker” equipped with Wi-Fi spying software into a typical cafe to show that in free public Wi-Fi, you may be shocked by what you’re making public.



Yes, you could be exposing phone numbers, phone numbers of your contacts, logins, passwords and lots of personally identifiable information that you wouldn’t leave lying around if it were written on a piece of paper. Of course, there isn’t a hacker in every cafe, subway station or library. But every time you log in to free Wi-Fi, you’re betting your privacy — unless you’re using a VPN along with your updated Internet Security software.

“Without a VPN, it’s trivial for anyone else using the same Wi-Fi to see big parts of your traffic,” F-Secure Chief Research Officer Mikko Hypponen explains whenever any asks him the basic steps people should take to secure their privacy.

“If I’m sitting at a coffee shop and I don’t know the Wi-Fi network, I use a VPN to protect my traffic,” F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan told us. “So if I’m at home and want to do the same thing, I can enable the VPN there as well and now there’s an encrypted tunnel between my device and the VPN.”

With a VPN your web traffic is even cloaked from your Internet service provider, meaning your browsing history cannot be tracked and sold — even if you’re in the United States.

While a VPN protects your traffic, you can still easily expose your data whether you’re connecting on a Wi-Fi network, your cellular network or directly through internet provider, especially if you get hit by a phishing scam, which often use dodgy sites to get you to hand over your private credentials directly to crooks. That’s why complete protection requires both a VPN to protect your privacy and Internet Security to protect yourself against bad sites, malware and various other methods criminals seek to access your banking and other valuable personal information.

When choosing security and a VPN you are transferring your trust to a provider, which is why free solutions can end up exposing your data in unexpected ways. F-Secure is a global cyber security pioneer with almost 30 years of experience in the field, and our FREEDOME VPN is trusted by customers and industry experts alike. F‑Secure TOTAL combines the privacy of FREEDOME VPN and the award-winning security of F-Secure SAFE into one subscription.

Jason Sattler

05.05.17 3 min. read


Highlighted article

Related posts


Newsletter modal

Thank you for your interest towards F-Secure newsletter. You will shortly get an email to confirm the subscription.

Gated Content modal

Congratulations – You can now access the content by clicking the button below.