Do NOT connect to free Wi-Fi networks at public places: FBI

The FBI has warned users against connecting to Wi-Fi networks in public places if they want to protect their devices from receiving malware and their data from being stolen.

Last month, authorities warned people against charging their mobile phones and other devices at USB charging stations in public places because they contain dangerous malware. Now, they're warning users against connecting to Wi-Fi networks as well.

Airport Wi-Fi

Many people like to stay connected while they're on the go and it's very common for people to connect to free Wi-Fi networks or hotspots available in public places like airports, hotels, coffee shops, and malls etc.

Connecting to an open wireless network is not only convenient but it also helps you avoid data charges from your carrier if you exceed your limit. However, there's a dangerous trade-off. You're exchanging security for convenience as these Wi-Fi connections may not be as safe as you think, according to a recent warning published by the FBI.

FBI warning

In its weekly tech advice column, the FBI has advised travelers not to use free Wi-Fi networks as it allows attackers to easily deliver a malware payload or steal information from your device.

"Don't allow your phone, computer, tablet, or other devices to auto-connect to a free wireless network while you are away from home," the FBI said. "This is an open invitation for bad actors to access your device. They then can load malware, steal your passwords and PINs, or even take remote control of your contacts and camera," the agency said.

Google Wi-Fi

What should you do?

If you absolutely must use the Wi-Fi connection, the FBI advises against using it to carry out sensitive operations like accessing your online bank accounts, making purchases or entering your payment card details. As an alternative, the agency is urging users to enable the hotspot feature available on most smartphones, and use a strong and unique password that the bad guys won't be able to guess.

If that's not possible or if you're on the verge of running out of data for the month, there are still some steps you can take to minimize the risks associated with using an open Wi-Fi network, such as adding a layer of encryption that Wi-Fi networks lack by using a VPN from well-known vendors like McAfee, and Symantec.