With data rates high and so many people using their smartphones and other mobile devices to stream movies and music, public Wi-Fi networks are an easy way to access the internet for free.

As you might guess, these public Wi-Fi networks pose a threat to your personal information and even identity. Bad guys, or hackers can use these public Wi-Fi connections with just a few pieces of software and their smartphone.

There are at least two tricks hackers use, that we know of. One is the MITM or "Man in the Middle". With this trick the hacker gets between you and the public Wi-Fi that's offered by restaurants and hotels. It enables them to intercept your connection. You're still using the free public Wi-Fi but you are going their system first.

The other, most common trick is called "Evil Twin". This hack works when the bad guys set up their own wireless hotspot; they give it a name such as "Free Wi-Fi" or the name of the hotel or airport. When you connect to their network they are able to see your phone or laptop including everything you do and every website and username and password that you enter. They've also been known to install software on the device that logs the user's keystrokes even after they disconnect and get back home. This is how they can see anything you type on your computer and even control your camera.

"Evil Twin" is successful because many people see the free Wi-Fi connection and think it is the safe one offered by the restaurant, hotel or airport.

To use the safe Wi-Fi network offered by these places it is best to find someone in security or the help desk and simply ask them for the name of their Wi-Fi network.

Another, and safest option is to use your carrier's LTE or data network. Many phone plans now offer wireless hotspots from the smartphone which you can use to connect laptops, tablets and even other phones on your account.

There are some things you should never do when you're on any public Wi-Fi network:

  • When you're traveling turn off Wi-Fi when you're not using it.
  • You should never log into your bank or credit card accounts.
  • Set up secure passwords for each social media account and never use the same login information for Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter that you use for your bank and credit cards. Most people use the same password for everything and if a hacker gets one, they have them all.
  • Use public Wi-Fi for watching videos and reading. If you can wait for anything else, do them when you're on something you know is absolutely safe.
  • If you're staying in a hotel, check to see if there is an Ethernet cable connection. These plugs look like large phone wires. They're secure and faster.
  • Once you return home it is a good idea to change passwords for any account you accessed on public Wi-Fi. If someone stole your login information they can use it to access those accounts later, even after you get home.

Accessing the internet is risky when you're traveling. These tips will keep you and your information safe and secure.