Public Places

When using or carrying your smartphone or tablet in a public place – whether outdoors or in a café, restaurant or in the office – there can be a number of risks if you do not take proper care.

The risks

  • People gaining access to your online activity or open apps if you are using an unsecured or bogus wireless network.
  • People accessing your device via Bluetooth to either send you unwanted texts, exploit your contacts list or access your handset’s commands.
  • Loss or theft of your device – either when you leave it unattended or while you are using or carrying it.
  • ‘Shoulder surfing’ – people viewing your screen.

Protect yourself

Using WiFi

The main security risk associated with using your device in a public place, is that the WiFi may not be secured, enabling unauthorised people to intercept anything you are doing online. This could include capturing your passwords and reading private emails. This can happen if the connection between your device and the WiFi is not encrypted, or if someone creates a spoof hotspot which fools you into thinking that it is the legitimate one.

With an encrypted connection, you will be required to enter a ‘key’, which may look something like: 1A648C9FE2.

Alternatively, you may simply be prompted to log in to enable internet access. This will tell the operator that you are online in their café, hotel or pub. There is almost certainly no security through encryption.

  • Unless you are using a secure web page, do not send or receive private information when using public WiFi.
  • Wherever possible, use well-known, commercial hotspot providers.
  • Businesspeople wishing to access their corporate network should use a secure, encrypted Virtual Private Network (VPN).


  • Ensure that your Bluetooth is switched off when you do not need to use it.
  • If you do use Bluetooth, make sure that your devices are not left ‘discoverable’.
  • Do not pair devices in public in case someone is scanning you while you create the connection.
  • If possible, restrict access to known, paired devices.
  • Do not accept files transmitted via Bluetooth from unknown or suspicious sources.

Other advice

  • Never leave your smartphone or tablet unattended.
  • Be aware of who is around you and may be watching what you are doing online. Consider using a privacy filter which effectively blocks the view of your screen from people sitting either side of you. An example is the 3M product, details here.
  • Do not get distracted by somebody who could steal your device.
  • Do not leave your device in view when not using it, even if it is on your seat or table.
  • Wherever possible, do not use your device or have it on show when walking around, as this will increase the chance of having it stolen and your  personal safety being put at risk.
  • Don’t forget that many apps connect to the internet in the background so you should check your settings to be sure of what information is being sent.

In partnership with

Jargon Buster

A Glossary of terms used in this article:


A type of short-range wireless connection between devices like mobile phones, headsets and computers.


The process of converting data into cipher text (a type of code) to prevent it from being understood by an unauthorised party.


A number of computers that are connected to one another, together with the connecting infrastructure.

Virtual Private Network

Virtual Private Network: a method of creating a secure connection between two points over the internet. Normally used only for business-to-business communications.


A local area network which uses radio signals instead of a wire to transmit data.