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The Security of Cellular Connections

TECH TIP

That free Wi-Fi network may not be so free if it is unsecured and someone hijacks your data. Your phone’s cellular data connection offers more protection.

Q. How secure is my LTE internet connection when I’m connected to my mobile provider, compared with Wi-Fi?

A. On a typical 4G LTE network connection, your data is encrypted and your identity is authenticated and protected. Wi-Fi networks, on the other hand, can vary widely when it comes to security. It’s possible to connect to an open public network where anyone who knows where to look can intercept your information, or you can be on a password-protected wireless network with high-level encryption and other protective measures. It just depends on the Wi-Fi network.

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If you’re unsure about the security of the wireless network you’re using, turn off the Wi-Fi setting in the settings and stick with the 4G LTE mobile connection.CreditThe New York Times

Although 4G LTE connections are generally considered more secure, the software is not impenetrable. An international team of researchers from Ruhr-University Bochum and New York University Abu Dhabi has found vulnerabilities in the 4G LTE technology and has written a paper on its findings, but notes that exploiting the security issues in the wild would take a lot of effort and most likely target high-profile individuals like politicians or journalists. Researchers at Purdue University and the University of Iowa also published their own academic findings on 4G LTE security and privacy this year.

Despite the weaknesses that have been discovered in the 4G LTE protocol, protections will hopefully be incorporated into the next big mobile-network technology. AT&T and Verizon have already announced early rollouts of their new 5G networks in certain cities this year, while T-Mobile and Sprint are also gearing up with the new 5G technology, which will be significantly faster than the current 4G LTE service and have its own approach to security.


Personal Tech invites questions about computer-based technology to techtip@nytimes.com. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually.

J.D. Biersdorfer has been answering technology questions — in print, on the web, in audio and in video — since 1998. She also writes the Sunday Book Review’s “Applied Reading” column on ebooks and literary apps, among other things. @jdbiersdorfer




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