Is Public Wi-Fi Safe for Online Banking? Complete 2024 Guide

Raven Wu
Raven Wu Writer
Updated on: May 29, 2024
Fact Checked by Katarina Glamoslija
Raven Wu Raven Wu
Updated on: May 29, 2024 Writer

Public Wi-Fi networks are unsafe due to their open nature — anyone can join a public Wi-Fi network. They also often lack encryption, leaving your data exposed and susceptible to interception. This is particularly risky when conducting sensitive transactions, such as during online banking, as hackers can easily steal your login credentials, personal information, and even your money.

Fortunately, there are many ways to protect your data on public Wi-Fi. I’ve been securing my Wi-Fi data for years now, and I’ve put all of my experience to good use by covering all the methods I rely on in this guide.

My go-to method is using a VPN, as I find this is the best way to secure your Wi-Fi traffic. I like using ExpressVPN the most, as it provides industry-leading security features, and it also has super-fast speeds.


Why You Should Avoid Public Wi-Fi Networks for Online Banking

Accessing online banking on public Wi-Fi could put your finances and identity at risk. This is because the Wi-Fi networks found at coffee shops, airports, and hotels are usually unsecured. An unsecured Wi-Fi network doesn’t require a password or any form of authentication to connect and the data sent over the network isn’t encrypted. This makes it easy for hackers to intercept any data that’s being transmitted and steal sensitive information, such as your login credentials or credit card information. But even secured networks aren’t 100% foolproof and can be compromised by advanced hacking techniques.

Here’s how hackers typically take advantage of unsecured public Wi-Fi networks:

  • Man-in-the-Middle attacks. The hacker positions themselves between your device and the Wi-Fi connection, allowing them to intercept, read, modify, and even reroute your data, all without you knowing.
  • Evil twin attacks. Hackers may set up malicious networks with names similar to legitimate ones (for example, “Free Airport WiFi” instead of the official “Airport WiFi”). If you connect to a fake network, any information you input can be directly harvested by the attacker.
  • Malware distribution. Threat actors exploit security weaknesses in public Wi-Fi networks to infect your device with spyware and keyloggers, which allows them to steal information from you directly.

What Can Happen If You Use Public Wi-Fi for Online Banking?

  • Identity theft. If a hacker manages to intercept your data, they could gain access to your personal and financial information, including your full name, bank account numbers, and social security number. With this information, they can impersonate you, open new bank accounts in your name, apply for loans, and even commit crimes under your identity.
  • Legal consequences. If your identity is stolen and used for illegal activities, you might face legal consequences. Proving that you weren’t the one who committed these activities is usually a very long and complex process.
  • Financial loss. When a hacker gets ahold of your banking details, they have direct access to your funds, which allows them to make unauthorized transactions, such as transferring money out of your account, making online purchases, or even applying for loans or credit cards.
  • Damage to credit score. With access to your financial information, hackers could apply for credit in your name and then not pay off the debts. This could severely damage your credit score, making it difficult for you to apply for loans or credit cards in the future.
  • Loss of privacy. By intercepting your data, hackers gain insight into your personal life. This could include your shopping habits, your network of friends and family, your physical location, and more.
  • Time and effort. If your information is compromised, you’ll need to spend a significant amount of time and effort to retrieve and secure your online bank accounts. This could involve contacting your bank, closing compromised accounts, opening new ones, changing online passwords, disputing fraudulent charges, and potentially engaging legal help.

How to Protect Your Data While Online Banking

1. Use a VPN

How to Protect Your Data While Online Banking

A VPN encrypts your internet connection, making all of your online activities, including online banking, more private and secure. Encrypted data is unreadable to third parties, so even if a hacker intercepted your traffic, they’d get nothing but gibberish. A VPN is essential to protect yourself on unsecured, public Wi-Fi networks, but I also recommend using a VPN on secured public Wi-Fi networks and home networks to add an extra layer of security.

Quick summary of the best VPNs for public Wi-Fi 2024:

  • 🥇1. ExpressVPN — Best overall VPN for online banking in 2024 (high-end security & privacy + fast speeds).
  • 🥈2. Private Internet Access — Very secure & customizable VPN for accessing online banking on public Wi-Fi.
  • 🥉3. CyberGhost VPN — Easy-to-use VPN for online banking on public Wi-Fi (good for beginners).

2. Use an Antivirus

How to Protect Your Data While Online Banking

Antiviruses prevent malware from stealing sensitive information, like your online banking account password. Keyloggers, for example, hide on your device and record your keystrokes, and then send this information to the threat actor that sent them your way. A good antivirus software (like Norton 360, for example) identifies and prevents all types of malware, including spyware, keyloggers, screen loggers, trojans, rootkits, and more, from ending up on your computer. They also run regular scans to catch and remove any potential threats early.

3. Use a Password Manager

How to Protect Your Data While Online Banking

A good password manager (I personally recommend 1Password) helps you create and manage strong, unique passwords for all of your online banking accounts. This reduces the risk of your online banking account being compromised due to a weak or reused password. They also auto-fill credentials, which makes it harder for hackers to intercept your keystrokes through a keylogger and some of them stop auto-filling on suspicious sites.

4. Use Your Personal Mobile Hotspot

Instead of using public Wi-Fi, consider using a personal mobile hotspot, which is generally more secure. To use your personal mobile hotspot on an iPhone, go to Settings, then Cellular, then Personal Hotspot or Settings, then Personal Hotspot and toggle it on. On Android, go to Settings, Connections, Mobile Hotspot and Tethering, and toggle it on. Then, connect your device to the hotspot as you would any other Wi-Fi network.

5. Regularly Update Your Devices and Apps

This ensures you have the latest security patches, which often fix known security vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit. Phones usually update automatically, but if yours doesn’t for whatever reason, here’s how you do it. On Android go to Settings, Software update, and tap Download and install. On iOS, go to Settings, General, Software Update, select the update you want to install, then tap Install Now.

6. Monitor Your Accounts

Keep an eye on your banking accounts for any suspicious activities. Early detection can limit the damage to a compromised account. Many banks also offer alerts for certain activities, such as large transactions.

7. Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

This makes it so that accessing your account requires two types of identification. This usually involves something you know, like a password, and something you have, like a text message sent to your phone. 2-factor authentication makes it so that even if someone guesses or steals your password, they can’t access your account without the second factor.

8. Turn Off Wi-Fi Auto-Connect

This feature auto-connects you to familiar networks or available networks in range. This can be convenient at home or at work, but it’s risky when it comes to public Wi-Fi and online banking because public Wi-Fi networks are less secure than private networks. Threat actors could also set up fake Wi-Fi networks designed to steal your information. If your device auto-connects to such a network, you could inadvertently expose sensitive information without even realizing you’re connected to the internet.

To turn auto-connect off on iOS, go to Settings, select Wi-Fi, and ensure Ask to Join Networks is set to Ask and Auto-Join Hotspot is set to Ask to Join.

To turn auto-connect off on Android, go to Settings, Connections, Wi-Fi, then tap on the three vertical dots in the top right corner and select Intelligent Wi-Fi and disable Turn Wi-Fi on/off automatically.

What to Do If You’ve Been Hacked While Banking on Public Wi-Fi

  1. Contact your bank. Most banks monitor accounts for fraudulent activity and should be able to figure out if a hacker has potentially got into your account. From there, the bank will help you change your account numbers if needed and guide you on any additional steps to take.
  2. Change your passwords. Change the password for your bank account and any other accounts where you use the same or similar passwords. This can help prevent the hacker from gaining further access to your accounts.
  3. Contact credit bureaus. Place a fraud alert or a credit freeze on your credit reports. This can prevent a hacker from opening new accounts in your name.
  4. Run an antivirus scan. If the hacker has managed to install malware on your device, you’ll need to remove it as fast as possible. The best way to do this is to use reliable antivirus software to scan your devices for malware. Left undetected, malware can cause future data breaches.
  5. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA). This adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of identification to log in.
  6. Update your devices. Make sure your devices and all applications are up-to-date. Updates often include security patches that fix vulnerabilities, which might have been how the hacker accessed your data.
  7. Review your insurance. Some insurance policies include identity theft coverage, which can help you cover the costs associated with recovering from identity theft or provide you with services to make the process easier and faster.
  8. Monitor your accounts. Keep a close eye on your bank account and any other accounts for unusual activity. If you notice any transactions you didn’t authorize, report them to your bank immediately.
  9. Be careful in the future. Avoid using public Wi-Fi for sensitive activities like online banking, or use a VPN if you must.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to do online banking on public Wi-Fi?

No, public Wi-Fi isn’t really safe, so logging into your online bank account or moving any transaction puts your accounts and other personal information at risk! When you use public Wi-Fi, your internet traffic is broadcast to everyone else in the network, and hackers can easily listen in or intercept that data. This is especially true since most public Wi-Fi networks aren’t protected by a password or any form of authentication, and the data transmitted over the network isn’t encrypted.

But even secured Wi-Fi networks aren’t 100% foolproof. I always recommend using a secure VPN when doing online banking, but it’s especially important if you absolutely must do it on public Wi-Fi.

Is it safe to do banking on public Wi-Fi with VPN?

Using a good VPN is one of the best ways to protect yourself on public Wi-Fi. VPNs encrypt all of your internet traffic, including your online banking activities, so third parties can’t access your data. They also have other privacy and security features, like a no-logs policy, a kill switch, full leak protection, and more, to keep you safe online. That said, no security solution is foolproof, so in order to minimize risk, I recommend only doing online banking on a private home network whenever possible.

What is the safest way to do online banking?

The safest way to do online banking is on a secure home network and not public Wi-Fi. Public Wi-Fi isn’t very safe to use, and doing online banking on public Wi-Fi could put your finances and identity at risk.

Some other tips to keep yourself safe while doing online banking include: Getting a good VPN to encrypt your connection, using an antivirus to protect yourself from malware, and using a password manager to create and manage strong, unique passwords. Additionally, you should always make sure your devices and apps are up-to-date, enable 2-factor authentication on your online banking accounts, and check your accounts regularly for suspicious activities.

Can someone steal your bank account info on public Wi-Fi?

Yes, hackers can gain access to your bank account information through public Wi-Fi. One common method is Man-in-the-Middle attacks, where the hacker puts themselves in between your device and the Wi-Fi connection, so they can read, intercept, or even modify your data in transit without your knowledge.

It’s best if you don’t do online banking on public Wi-Fi at all. But if you must, you should get yourself a good VPN for an extra layer of security. A VPN will encrypt all of your internet traffic, making your data unreadable to threat actors and any other third party. A lot of top VPNs, like ExpressVPN, also protect against malicious sites and come with advanced security features like full leak protection.

Best VPNs for Online Banking on Public Wi-Fi in 2024 — Final Score:

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About the Author
Raven Wu
Raven Wu
Updated on: May 29, 2024

About the Author

Raven Wu is a freelance writer, editor, and translator. He is a strong advocate of internet freedom and is very passionate about technology, and he’s honed his craft by researching and writing about a variety of other topics including education, literature, health, pop culture, and games. Outside of work, he's an amateur novelist and history enthusiast who enjoys hard games, spicy food, and thinking way too hard about everything.