Whether it’s for work or play, chances are, you need a secure, stable Internet connection some time in your daily routine. But when you’re on the go, figuring out how to get access to Wi-Fi (and free Wi-Fi, no less) isn’t always a given.
Here’s your guide on how to get free Wi-Fi at home or on the go, wherever you are in the world:
Trying to work, stream videos, play games, or, basically, do anything without a stable Internet connection is downright frustrating. So when you find a free, open, public Wi-Fi network, it can seem too good to be true … and sometimes it is.
While finding Wi-Fi for free can seem like a lucky break when you’re traveling, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best Wi-Fi. In truth, public Wi-Fi that’s free can come with a lot of safety and security concerns. In fact, a lot of those free public Wi-Fi networks you see pop up on your computer or smartphone aren’t even Wi-Fi connections at all—they’re public hotspots.
First, let’s understand the difference and similarities between Wi-Fi and hotspots.
Wi-Fi is a wireless technology that devices can use to send information to each other. In your home, for instance, you likely have a Wi-Fi router. Your Internet service provider uses this router as a bridge to connect your devices to the Internet.
Hotspots, on the other hand, are specific physical locations or devices that offer wireless connections to the Internet. If given access, any network device can connect to a hotspot.
Then there are private hotspots and public hotspots.
Your smartphone, for example, is one common example of a private hotspot. Public hotspots, meanwhile, are created when a business wants to offer Internet access to others. In fact, many free public Wi-Fi connections that you see available at coffee shops, restaurants, etc. are actually hotspots.
The biggest difference between private and public hotspots is security.
Private hotspots are more secure because you can control exactly who connects to them—for example, with a password. Public hotspots, on the other hand, are available to anyone within range, which can present some security concerns (more on this below).
When you’re on the go and away from home, you obviously can’t rely on your home’s stable Wi-Fi connection. But there are still plenty of options to find free Wi-Fi or free public hotspots, no matter where you are in the world.
Many public establishments nowadays offer free Wi-Fi connections, such as coffee shops, libraries, hotels, restaurants, gyms, etc.
There are also apps you can use to help you find free Wi-Fi, such as Instabridge or WiFi Map. These apps will use your location to show a map of your area with a list of all available free public Wi-Fi or hotspots near you.
Once you find an available free Wi-Fi network or public hotspot, getting connected is simple.
Note that, in some cases, there may be an additional step. You may have to wait for an opt-in site to pop up in your browser, as some businesses require you to provide an email address and/or agree to their terms before using their free Wi-Fi. Other businesses may also provide you with a login and password to access their free Wi-Fi.
Finding free Wi-Fi to use anywhere in the world sure is convenient—but one thing many people don’t realize is that it may not necessarily be secure.
Unfortunately, many open, free, public Wi-Fi networks are ripe territory for cybercriminals.
When you connect to a public Wi-Fi network, unless you’re using specific cybersecurity tools, you are often putting yourself at risk.
Most free public Wi-Fi networks lack basic security measures. This makes them prime targets for cybercriminals who want to inject your computer with malware, steal your bandwidth, damage your system, or commit other nefarious cyber acts.
In fact, many free public Wi-Fi networks are actually created by cybercriminals. For example, a cybercriminal may create a public hotspot and then name it “free wifi train” to lure in unsuspecting travelers. Once you connect, they can compromise your security and your privacy by tapping into any of your exposed data, such as your email login, your bank details, your personal photos, your home address, etc.
So, does this mean you can never use free Wi-Fi again?
Fortunately, there is a way to keep yourself safe and secure while using free public Wi-Fi: with a VPN.
A VPN is a virtual private network that helps you protect yourself and your privacy while you browse online. Basically, a VPN allows you to connect to a private network through a public network so all your data will be encrypted, safe, and secure.
When you use a VPN, your Internet connection is redirected through another private Internet server. This means that your real IP address is hidden from would-be hackers and all your Internet traffic and activity is encrypted. The result? No hackers can intercept your activity via public Wi-Fi.
It’s quite rare to find free, public, open Wi-Fi networks that have adequate security measures. But when you use a VPN, you don’t have to worry. A VPN secures your connection no matter where you are—even if you’re using free public Wi-Fi that isn’t secure.