If you link up to a public Wi-Fi network like the one offered by your local coffee shop, you should know that your connection probably isn't very secure. Free Wi-Fi connections aren't encrypted, so other users on the network can potentially spy on what you're doing and steal your usernames and passwords.
But according to CNET, the Wi-Fi Alliance—a group made up of member companies like Apple and Intel that creates Wi-Fi standards and certifies products—has announced a major change to Wi-Fi security that's coming in 2018. A new security protocol called WPA3 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 3) makes networks more secure against hackers, whether it's your computer, smartphone, or Wi-Fi-enabled fridge that's connected (just in case you take your smart fridge to Starbucks).
You're probably already familiar with WPA2, the security system many Wi-Fi networks already run on. This is just an improvement on that system—a much-needed update after a computer scientist discovered a major vulnerability in October 2017—with better data encryption and higher security requirements. According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, it can protect users even if they use terrible passwords. (Which you shouldn’t.)
Right now, there are a few steps you can take to make your online experience more secure while you’re in public, but not everyone takes the time to put them in place. These new Wi-Fi protections don't require the extra step of going into your settings and making sure you've turned off file settings or subscribing to a VPN service.
The change is set to debut sometime in early 2018, according to a representative from the Wi-Fi Alliance. Until then, remember: A VPN really is your best friend. It may not completely protect you from hackers looking to steal your information, but it's a lot safer than surfing on your own.