Debbi asked: “Whenever I’m at the airport, I have my Wi-Fi on on my cell phone. Someone told me that’s not a good idea. Am I at risk for something bad happening? I don’t always use the Wi-Fi, but is it possible that someone is accessing something on my phone without me knowing it?”
Debbi, the problem is not really that someone can be accessing something on your phone, it’s that they can be accessing something coming out of your phones.
If anyone is connected to the same network as you, they may be able to listen in on the data being sent and received, and depending on whether or not that data is encrypted from end to end, they may be able to sniff out passwords or other sensitive information.
Your airport’s WiFi is likely open to the public, and therefore accessible by anyone who happens to want to sit in the area and use it, that means that you’re more at risk than if you were using protected WiFi somewhere where fewer, more trustworthy people could access it.
As long as you’re not accessing sensitive accounts using the WiFi the risk is very small, and if you’re logging into sites using https, that will add another layer of protection.
Overall, you’re not taking a huge risk by using public WiFi, and your phone won’t be hacked for doing it, but it is riskier than using private connections. If possible, try to stick to encrypted services, or just access things that don’t require personal information, like reading the news.
And we have recommended for years that any time you’re logging in to sites that are extremely important to protect, such as bank accounts, credit cards, or work systems, you not rely on public Wi-Fi at all. This is why data plans were invented.
Even when the public Wi-Fi is password protected, like the systems in a local coffee shop might be, you have to use caution. If they gave the password to you, then they gave it to other people also, and the password for connecting to the Wi-Fi provides no data protection at all once the connection has been made.
So, trust your data plan whenever it’s time to do anything involving money, but for looking up Pinterest or reading news, as we said, you’re not at major risk.