On a recent trip to the Finnish Archipelago, F-Secure security advisor Sean Sullivan scanned the public Wi-Fi networks to see what he’d come across. On the boat that cruised through the largest island group in the world, he found 390 devices. At the hotel, another 129.
“There were a ton of iPads and a ton of kids using public Wi-Fi,” he told me. “I’m pretty sure every other device on that Wi-Fi can see your device. I could scan any one of those devices to see if they had an vulnerabilities I could exploit, if I wanted.”
Most public Wi-Fi is not configured with your security in mind, even if it requires a password to join.
“A password is just one layer of security that keeps random passerbys from hopping on the network,” he said. “You still need to trust 389 other guests.”
It’s way easier to snoop on a public Wi-Fi network that you might think. The risks of using unsecured Wi-Fi for a kid — who probably doesn’t have sensitive financial information to protect — are not as severe as they are for an adult. A stranger could use unsecured connections to make inappropriate contact with the child, but that could also happen as she or he uses any social network without guidance or restriction.
That doesn’t mean you should ignore the security issues. To Sean, the lure of public Wi-Fi on vacation presents a teachable moment.
“Personally, I think it’s a chance to do some good digital parenting by explaining that you’ll have important information on your device one day so you should get used to securing it.”
Since the whole point of a family vacation is to spend time together, you can use that time to make a point that will benefit them for years.
“Summer is a great opportunity to teach your kids that there are such things as trusted and untrusted networks,” he said. “If the network you’re on isn’t run by you or your loved ones, you can’t presume anything about the security of the network. So you should definitely run a VPN if you are transmitting any private information.”
And it’s not just Sean’s opinion that you should be using network protection like F-Secure’s FREEDOME VPN.
“Very often in the terms and conditions of public Wi-Fi, there is a recommendation to run your VPN and/or antivirus,” he said. “A ‘fun’ activity for kids is to ask them to read the terms and conditions of the Wi-Fi and search for the word ‘security’ to see what the network recommends.”
A VPN with virtual locations like FREEDOME also gives you a familiar node on the internet to access streaming content that won’t activate anti-fraud algorithms. So you can watch cartoons in your native language or check into your Gmail without your accounts freaking out and demanding information you may not have in your wallet or suitcase.
“If you’re an all iOS family like mine, your iOS store FREEDOME subscription will cover your iOS accounts and protect all of your immediate family,” Sean said.
But even if you don’t want to take the extra step to secure your browsing data, you can still use this opportunity to let your child know that not all Wi-Fi networks they connect to are as secure as the one they enjoy at home.
Here are some more tips for keeping your data private while you’re on vacation.