Wi-Fi Vs. Cellular Data : Which Is Safer?

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You need to know which type of connection is the most secure and private. But is it Wi-Fi, or mobile data?

Wifi Vs. Mobile data?

Protecting digital security and privacy should be everyone’s priority. More and more of our sensitive data is being carried around and actively accessed in the world. And more and more the world is making itself accessible via open Wi-Fi networks.

Security and privacy on mobile devices can be confusing

Are you making payments or sending messages, which is safer: Wi-Fi, or mobile data?

Security And Privacy

Most people use privacy and security as interchangeable terms. However, they actually have different meanings. Some connections are secure, some are private, some are both, and some are not.

Security

Security means that your actions cannot be seen by people outside your network, such as hackers. In general, operating most securely means understanding the type of connection you are using.

Typically, some level of security is important. How important it is depends on the type of information you access or enter.

If you’re updating your debit card balance, you want a secure connection. If you’re checking to see if an actor was actually in that old movie, you might run the risk of checking for a less secure connection. That is, as long as you are careful with how you access more sensitive data.

Privacy

Privacy means that your actions cannot be seen by actors in your network, such as the websites you use or the apps on your device. Operating with privacy means understanding the terms and conditions of the providers, websites and apps you access and how you use those websites and apps.

There are some actions on the web that won’t work if they’re completely private. That’s why the terms and conditions for websites and apps are so important.

Some websites and apps need to have access, and sometimes permission to share your data in order to function as expected. You just need to know who has access to what data, why they need it, how they use it, and with whom (if any) they share it.

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Understanding Mobile Connections

Free Wi-Fi is not secure enough for all activities

There are two basic types of internet connection for mobile devices. They both allow connection in basically the same way. But how devices are connected and who can potentially see your activity on those connections vary.

Wifi

Icon wifi

Wi-Fi is a wireless internet connection created by a router connected to a modem. The modem actually creates the network through the service provider and the router allows the mobile devices to connect wirelessly. That means your internet service provider (ISP) has access to almost everything you do online.

If you control your own network, you can control it to some degree by using systems like Tor and/or a VPN. However, if you’re on someone else’s network, it’s not that simple.

When you access a Wi-Fi network, it is open or closed. Closed networks, such as those you use at home or at work, require a password. Open networks, as in some restaurants and other public places, do not require a password. This is a problem for two big reasons if you are very concerned about your privacy and security.

The first is that you don’t know who else is on the network or their capabilities.

Second is that many mobile devices are set to automatically connect to open Wi-Fi, so you may be at risk even if you are not actively making sensitive transactions on your device.

If you’re worried that your device will automatically connect, you should be able to adjust it in your device settings.

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Cellular Data

Mobile data works essentially the same way as Wi-Fi. The biggest difference is that the signal comes through your cellular service provider, not through your ISP.

Of course, your cellular service provider may still have access to some of your information. And again, the sites you visit (and the sites they share/sell your data on) will too. However, unlike Wi-Fi connections, mobile data connections are encrypted, adding an extra level of security from outside threats.

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That’s why security experts like Norton recommend using mobile data over Wi-Fi to access sensitive information while you’re on the move. Most mobile devices will use Wi-Fi instead of data when Wi-Fi is available and both connections are turned on.

Other Security Tips

Norton also likes to say that no connection is completely secure. That’s even true if you’re on mobile data. However, there are things you can do to make your interactions on the mobile web safer.

Manage Data

Most cellular plans have limited data. Even most “unlimited” plans will “limit” your data. That is, once you use some data, you still have access to the data but it is a slower form of data. So check your cellular plan to see how much data you have and what happens when it runs out.

As noted above, not everything the average person does on the internet has to be secure or even private. So consider saving your data to do things like check your bank account and use an open Wi-Fi connection to do things like search quotes that you can’t place.

Beware of Cookies

Some people are afraid of cookies. You shouldn’t be afraid of cookies, but you should be aware of them. Cookies store information on the websites you visit, usually for the websites you visit.

It sounds scary, but most websites store your cookies fairly securely and information stored on one website is not available to other websites you visit. If you are really worried about cookies, you can manage them in your browser settings. The following image shows what Google Chrome looks like, but most browsers are pretty similar.

Because cookies are managed by the website that manages them, they have the potential to be a privacy issue rather than a security issue. In other words, you are in no more danger of cookies on mobile data or Wi-Fi than you are over other connections and hackers cannot actually access or use your cookies

It also means that it’s more important than protecting your cookies to think twice about which sites you enter potentially sensitive information on. Or, safer still, think twice about which sites you access.

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Use Two Browsers Or Apps

What’s perhaps scarier than cookies is that nowadays most browsers store your passwords. If you enable this setting (and most people do) then the more information hackers get, the more information they can get.

There are several ways to work around this. One is to set your browser not to remember passwords to sites that have sensitive information, such as mobile banking. Another way is to use a separate dedicated app if possible.

To return to the mobile banking example, if your banking service has a dedicated application, it is (perhaps) safer to access the service through that application than through your browser. Even the app isn’t more secure, using the app instead can save passwords for sensitive content from your browser.

A similar but potentially simpler solution is to use two different browsers. It is one browser for less sensitive activities (regular browsing, streaming, social media, etc.) and one browser for more sensitive activities (online banking, online shopping, email, etc.).

You can use a standard browser like Chrome or Safari for less sensitive actions and a dedicated secure browser like Tor for more sensitive activities. Or, just use two different standard browsers for both types of activity just to prevent the mix-up of passwords and data.

Finally, when you’re on the go, this method fits perfectly with previous approaches that involve managing your data. Use your dedicated secure browser on the data connection and use Wi-Fi to access your standard browser.

Keep Up-To-Date About Progress

5G could bring changes to mobile data security

As of this writing, mobile data is the best option for accessing sensitive information when you are not on your own secure network. However, being careless with how you manage information is still important.

Be careful what websites you provide information on, and use different connection types and browsers for different types of activity to stay safe.