This is actually not an uncommon scenario when we are wanting to game online on the move. There are actually loads of places where we could take our PlayStation/Xbox games consoles and connect to a public Wi-Fi network (such as hotels, halls of residence, Wi-Fi “Hotspots” etc.) But is it actually safe to do so? Can we hook up our games consoles to public Wi-Fi networks without any security issues?
In general, it is safe to connect games consoles to public Wi-Fi networks, since they cannot be hacked in the same way other devices can. However, it is still not recommended to log in to sensitive accounts or enter other personal details if you network is unsecured and you are not using a VPN.
It generally is OK to use public Wi-Fi access points for games consoles purely for basic functions like online gaming and updates, but not recommended for more security sensitive things, which are best done on other devices or over a secured personal Wi-Fi network. Also, the quality of the connection of public networks isn’t always the best, depending on your distance to the access point.
Let’s look at the issue of public Wi-Fi security and games consoles in more detail.
Security Considerations Of Using Games Consoles On Public Wi-Fi
If you’re wanting to use a games console (such as PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Xbox X) on a public Wi-Fi network, there’s good news and bad news when looking at the security and safety of doing so:
Good news – Games consoles can’t catch viruses in the way that other devices like PCs/laptops can, since they have restrictions on the way they are able to access the internet which mean they do have have the same security vulnerabilities that other devices do.
Put simply, games consoles cannot catch viruses because they cannot be put in a position where they can catch viruses. The internet browsers on them cannot download anything and any downloads that a games console does make for games, patches etc are done through channels carefully controlled and secured by the the console manufacturers.
The user does not have the same freedom of browsing on games consoles that they do on other devices and so cannot stray them off into territory where they could get infected, like downloading from suspect sites. Therefore, in terms of RECEIVING data on public Wi-Fi networks, there are not security issues.
Bad news – The bad news is that in terms of SENDING data, the same security vulnerabilities exist when using unsecured public Wi-Fi networks as with any other devices. This means that it is possible for any skilled hacker to see what data you are entering (passwords, payment details etc) over an unsecured public Wi-Fi network on a games consoles, just as it is using any other devices like a PC/laptop etc.
Bottom line – You’ve generally got nothing to worry about downloading/receiving things onto your games console over public Wi-Fi, but sending personal data over these networks (especially when unsecured) via your games console is just as risky as any other device. Therefore, there’s some common sense precautions it’s recommended to follow, which we’ll turn to now.
Best Practices For Using Games Consoles On Public Wi-Fi
Given that there are some potential security risks of using games consoles on public Wi-Fi, here are some best practices:
- Connecting to public Wi-Fi networks just download games/patches/updates, watch YouTube without logging in, or play in online lobbies is generally fine, assuming you can get a good enough signal. Your console is not at risk downloading games/patches on these networks.
- Using the console for basic browsing is also OK, as long as no personal details are entered.
- However, it’s NOT recommended to enter any personal sensitive details via your console (such as account logins, passwords, card details) via your console when on an unsecured public Wi-Fi network.
- Always look to connect to secured, password protected Wi-Fi networks.
- Be especially wary of completely open, unrestricted public Wi-Fi networks that can be connected to straight away without even entering a password.
- It’s not recommended to make purchases or login to email/social media accounts on your console browser on public Wi-Fi.
There are some mitigating factors, both with the network and the websites visited, that can increase or reduce the security risks:
Network – The worst kind of public Wi-Fi networks in terms of security (but the easiest to access) are totally unsecured networks. You’ll often find these in hotels – where there’s either no password at all required to connect, or it’s stuck up on the wall for anyone to note down and use. It’s recommended to be especially careful over these totally open networks, and never enter any personal details over them. If the network is public, but at least password protected and secured and you need to ask for the password, it’s a bit more secure, but I still wouldn’t enter any details over them without a VPN (see below).
Websites – If you end up using the browser on a games console, pretty much all websites now where you’d have to enter personal/sensitive details to login or pay will have that green HTTPS “secure” padlock in the top left corner to indicate a secure connection:
Theoretically, this should make the connection more secure, but it’s still not foolproof. Even with this green padlock, it’s still not recommended to enter any personal details via your console over a public Wi-Fi connection. It’s best to either use another device or a VPN.
Can You Use a VPN With Games Consoles? (PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Xbox X)
One potential way around this problem is to use a Virtual Private Network or VPN connection on your games console when connecting to a public Wi-Fi network. This adds another (very strong) layer of encryption around your connection, meaning it should now be virtually impossible to hack regardless of the security of the network you’re accessing the internet through.
However, using VPNs with games consoles is not as straightforward with games consoles as with other devices. There aren’t app versions for VPNs for PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Xbox X that you can download from the app menus on these devices. Instead, if it’s even available, you have to run your VPN connection to your games console via an intermediary device like a PC/laptop
This is sort of like what we covered in our network bridge article, but the setup is more complicated when using a VPN. You can also install some VPNs on a router, so all devices that connect are covered, but this is less likely to be possible on a public network.
Here are some major VPN providers that DO offer the capability of using their servers with games consoles:
- NordVPN – Can set up VPN connection via a network bridge via a PC/laptop.
- ExpressVPN – Possible by registering your IP address and changing DNS and other settings, but pretty complicated and usually not worth it. Support page here.
- Private Internet Access (PIA) – Don’t offer full on VPN services, but you can change your console’s DNS servers to their Smart ones to unlock access to certain content at times.
Overall, VPN providers don’t massively promote use on games consoles, because while it is technically possible, it often involves a complicated setup, and doesn’t always give you the full VPN protection you get on other devices.
There are also other factors to consider, like the VPN making both your (often already slow) speeds even slower, and also increasing latency/ping because of the extra “hops” or steps the VPN adds to the connection.
However, it’s there as an option if you really want to use your console with public Wi-Fi and want to make everything more secure. In most cases though, you’re better off using other devices for security essential things.
Problems Connecting Games Consoles To Public Wi-Fi Networks
Also, aside from the security risks from accessing public Wi-Fi networks via games console like the PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Xbox X, there are also often practical problems with doing so:
Slow speeds – Even if you can connect, public Wi-Fi networks are often notoriously slow and unreliable, especially with more users and the further you are away from the access point. If you’re trying to download a large game or patch over a public network, expect to be waiting a long time in most cases! Nothing much you can do about this.
Registration/Login Required – Many public Wi-Fi networks still require you to login via an access page, which can present it’s own problems. Normally, once you hit this security wall, your console browser should pop open and open up the sign-in page to prompt you, but it doesn’t always happen on all consoles, and sometimes you’re just stuck unable to access the internet. Plus, if you do login via one of these pages, you are mostly entering sensitive data when the network may be unsecured, which goes back to the security issues we discovered above.
Other connection problems – With connecting to some public Wi-Fi networks on games consoles, you’ll often also get other issues like NAT Type issues and party/chat problems or other problems caused by the firewall/security settings of the network. Common in university halls of residence and other managed networks. You have to contact the network administrators to ask about the best way of getting around these issues. Get your console on Open NAT type for the best connectivity.
MAC Address Required – Some public networks, again in certain types of multi-occupant residences, will require you to submit your console’s MAC address to be allowed onto the network. You can find this in your console’s network settings/status menu. These types of networks are a little more secure, because access is restricted to only those users that submit a MAC address to the network administrator. But your console’s connection still isn’t totally secure and the same precautions listed above are advised.