Free public WiFi is not secure, but there are ways to reduce your risks when you use it. Choose secure U-M WiFi options and a secure home wireless network whenever possible. If you decide that using public or free WiFi is your only option, take precautions to protect yourself and follow the tips below to make using it as safe as possible.
Use a VPN
The most secure way to use public or free WiFi is by using a VPN to secure your connection. This protects your communications from being read by others on the same public WiFi. Be wary of free VPN services, especially if the service provider is unknown. There are a number of VPN options available, including some provided by U-M.
- The U-M VPN provides an encrypted connection between your device and the U-M network. This encrypts all traffic from your device and enables access to university resources from untrusted networks. The U-M VPN is also available to alumni and retirees. Michigan Medicine, UM-Dearborn, and UM-Flint provide VPNs for their campuses. See Secure Your Internet Connection for more details on these VPNs.
- MiWorkspace Macs users should use the U-M VPN. The client is installed on all MiWorkspace Macs and can be accessed from the menu bar at the top.
- MiWorkspace Windows computers have Direct Access installed. Direct Access protects many of your connections to U-M resources for remote work. You may need to use the U-M VPN to connect to some resources and should use a VPN to secure personal connections. If you are unsure if your U-M work goes through Direct Access, you can contact the ITS Service Center to ask.
- Third party or vendor provided personal services. If you decide to use a VPN service provided or purchased from outside U-M, be aware it will not give access to U-M resources that require a secure connection, and that free services may not be as secure as reputable paid services.
General WiFi Safety Tips
- Save the settings for secure WiFi, such as MWireless or your home network. Do not save settings for public WiFi connections.
- Do not set your devices to automatically connect to available WiFi. Have them prompt you for each new connection.
- Beware of registering for or signing up to use public WiFi, especially if this requires giving personal information. Don't reuse your username or password (especially your U-M ones!) if you need to create an account for free WiFi.
- Be aware of what you are transmitting or sharing. Avoid doing sensitive work or transactions on public WiFi, especially banking, shopping, and transmission of personal or sensitive information.
- Use your cellular service for a mobile hotspot. (See instructions at How to Turn Your Phone Into a Wi-Fi Hotspot, PCMag, 6/17/19.) Cell carriers are more secure than public WiFi. Remember to check the Sensitive Data Guide entry for U-M data on Personal Devices before using a personal device with U-M data.