Nowadays all of us are familar with the WiFi. This a technology that enables all devices such as computers to connect to the Internet and communicate wirelessly. So it has brought much convenience in our life. It uses a wireless adaptor in order to create a “hotspot.” Users within range of the hotspot can connect to the Internet, when there is a connection. Wireless networks exist in both homes and public places. It is necessary for users to be aware of the risks of using public WiFi networks. Mostly public WiFi is often unsecured, because of the risks it provides.
What is public WiFi and where can you find it?
It is not hard to find public WiFi networks because they have become something common everywhere. Here there are some of the locations which own these networks:
- public parks
- Trains, subways
- Tourist attractions
- coffee shops
- Shopping centers
- Tourist attraction areas, such as trains, subways and stations
- Hotels and hostels
- Malls and shopping centers
- Public parks, squares and other public locations
- Tourist attractions, commercial hubs
- Home Wi-Fi networks, if left unsecured
As you know the number of public WiFi networks is much more than the ones I mentioned above. Actually we can say that most of them are unsecured; reports show that one out of four are completely unsecured.
Which features has made public WiFi networks insecure?
A network which doesn’t ask you to enter password for using the Internet is called an unsecured network. Such networks are so easy for hackers to hack and steal personal data like login passwords, credit card information and etc. These open networks brings many risks for users and they have unencrypted connections.
Here are other risks of using public WiFi
- Man-in-the-Middle Attacks: This is one of the most common threats of these networks. When a computer makes a connection to the Internet, data is sent from point A (computer) to point B (service/website), and vulnerabilities can allow an attacker to get in between these and read them. The malicious person can then access information being sent, without the senders or recipients knowing. This type of attack allows the hacker to steal personal information.
- Hackers/Snoops: Think hacking is hard? Think again. Hackers or snoops can infiltrate unsecured WiFi networks and use them to collect personal details or sensitive login information. Hacking is easier and easier these days, with the help of hacking tools like packet analyzers. They can access everything that you are doing online like viewing whole web pages you have visited to being able to capture your login credentials, and even hijack your accounts.
- Malware: Just because of software vulnerabilities, there are also many ways for attackers to inject malware into connected devices without you knowing it. Malware is very dangerous, as it could give an attacker access to everything on your device. This includes files or photos, or microphone activation.
- Rogue Hotspots (Fake Networks): They are made by criminals, using a name close to that of the actual, legitimate WiFi hotspot. These hotspots are created in order to trick victims into connecting, thinking they are using a legitimate network at a coffee shop, for example. Instead, they just connected to a rogue hotspot. The criminals can now view their sensitive information.
- Unencrypted networks: Most routers are with encryption turned off by default, and it must be turned on when the network is set up. Encryption means that the information that is sent between your device and the wireless router are in the form of a secret code. So that it cannot be read by anyone who doesn’t have the key to discover the code.
What information are at risk?
With the information you got about risks of using public WiFi, you think what exactly can they get their hands on? Which information of you? When using these networks, the following information may be at risk:
- The websites you visit
- Your location
- Personal communications, such as your calls, Emails, chats and messages
- The ones which you are communicating
- Login passwords for different websites, like banking websites
- Files that you send
- Passwords and other important information
How to protect against the risks of using public WiFi?
Thankfully, it’s fairly easy to protect yourself. There are things you can do for protecting yourself.
There are several ways to protect yourself when using a Wi-Fi network. We can say that one of the most important thing you can do every time you connect is to use a VPN which we will talk about more in this article. So when you use Wi-Fi with a VPN, your privacy and security is protected at all times.
Several other ways exist which you can go through for preventing the risks of using public WiFi. The first step is awareness. Always “think before you connect.” Realizing when to log in to a Wi-Fi network in a public place, especially one labeled “free,” is very important. It’s also important to understand what you’re agreeing to. When you accept the terms and conditions of a public Wi-Fi hotspot, it’s likely you’re giving permission to collect information about you or what you’re looking at. When you’re aware, you can make better choices about when to connect or even not connect, and actively try to protect your privacy.
Here are more tips for increasing your privacy
- Turn off sharing settings: So, in this way others on the network cannot access your information. When connecting to the Internet at a public place, you’re unlikely to want to share anything. You can turn off sharing setting from the system preferences or Control Panel.
- Use two-factor authentication: I recommend you to do this for all of login credentials on your online accounts.
- Turn off Wi-Fi: When you do’t want to use it, so you should turn it off. If you do this it would prevent it from automatically connecting and putting you at risk. Because even if you haven’t actively connected to a network, the Wi-Fi hardware in your device is still transmitting data between any network within range. As a bonus, when you turn it off,
you’ll also experience a much longer battery life.
- Always use HTTPS for websites you visit: Because most of the legitimate websites starts with “HTTPS.”
- Use a firewall: This network security device monitors incoming and outgoing network traffic and decides whether to allow or block specific traffic based on a defined set of security rules.
- Update your settings to forget network: This option prevents these networks from being saved on your phone and automatically connecting without you understanding.
VPNs on public WiFi
Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is necessary if you want to have a secure connection to another network over the Internet. VPN makes your data strongly encrypted so that no malicious actor can position himself in the middle of your connection. They are an excellent alternative to public WiFi networks. Of course, it relies too much on having a secure and trusted VPN provider that uses strong encryption and certificate authentication. Keep in mind that VPNs are not unbreakable; actually nothing is, when it comes to technology. But they are secure as long as they provide strong, proven encryption algorithms.
While VPNs cost some money, the peace of mind and additional security it brings to us is well worth it. Moreover, most employers try to equip their employees with a way to connect to a VPN network on the go. And, they should use it. While employees are on the go and need to access WiFi networks to do their jobs, the company’s data is at a high-risk if they use a public network.
As technology grows, so do the security flaws. Public WiFi provides convenience for all of us, but it is not without its risks. Understanding the risks of using public WiFi may prevent you from falling victim to an attack. Regardless, it’s high time that individuals and employers take the risks of using public WiFi networks more seriously. The mentioned steps are simple, easy, inexpensive and will save you from massive amounts of data theft both at home and at work.
This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)