How to Stay Safe While Using Public Wi-Fi: A Comprehensive Guide for Linux Users

Ronald Farrer
3 min readMay 29, 2023
Photo by Kris Atomic on Unsplash

Public Wi-Fi networks — whether in coffee shops, airports, or libraries — pose significant security threats. While Linux users often enjoy superior security compared to their peers on other platforms, they should not be complacent when it comes to public Wi-Fi usage. Today, we’re going to delve into tips and practices that can help Linux users stay safe when using public Wi-Fi networks.

1. Always Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Perhaps the most important tool for maintaining security on a public Wi-Fi network is a Virtual Private Network or VPN. This tool creates an encrypted “tunnel” between your device and the VPN server, making it almost impossible for cybercriminals to view your online activity or steal sensitive data. Numerous VPN services are compatible with Linux, such as SurfShark, NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and CyberGhost.

To set up a VPN on Linux, you’ll typically have to install the VPN client software and configure it according to the provider’s instructions. Always ensure that your VPN is turned on before connecting to a public Wi-Fi network.

2. Enable Firewall

Linux distributions typically come with a built-in firewall tool (iptables), but it’s usually inactive by default. Enabling the firewall adds an extra layer of defense against unwanted connections. If you’re using Ubuntu or another Debian-based distro, you can utilize UFW (Uncomplicated Firewall) to simplify the process of configuring your firewall.

To enable UFW, open the terminal and type the following command:

sudo ufw enable

To check the status of UFW, use:

sudo ufw status verbose

Remember, while a firewall can help block unwanted incoming connections, it can’t protect your data in transit over the network.

3. Keep Your System and Software Updated

Updates often come with important security patches. Ensure that your Linux distribution and software are regularly updated. Many distributions offer automatic updates, but if yours does not, you can usually update manually via the terminal. For example, on Ubuntu or another Debian-based distro, you can update your system with these commands:

sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade

4. Avoid HTTP Websites

Data transferred over HTTP is not encrypted and can easily be intercepted. Always check that the website you’re visiting uses HTTPS, which encrypts your data in transit. If your browser allows, consider installing an extension like HTTPS Everywhere, which forces websites to use HTTPS whenever possible.

5. Be Wary of Phishing Attempts

Phishing is a common way of obtaining sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details. Always be cautious when giving out personal information online. Check for spelling errors, strange URLs, and other signs that might indicate a phishing attempt.

6. Use Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security to your accounts by requiring a second form of verification in addition to your password. This can be a code sent to your phone, a fingerprint, or even a physical device. Even if someone manages to steal your password, they won’t be able to access your account without the second factor.

7. Disconnect When Not in Use

When you’re done using the public Wi-Fi, make sure to disconnect from it. This reduces the amount of time your device is potentially exposed to threats.

In conclusion, Linux users should never let their guard down when using public Wi-Fi networks. Cyber threats are becoming increasingly sophisticated, but by using these tips, you can significantly reduce your risk. Stay safe, and happy surfing!

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