In the contemporary world of networking, Wi-Fi has become a vital commodity. Wi-Fi are now installed in each and every place regardless of the size of the place; from international airports to small kiosks, you can find an internet connection everywhere. Most of these Wi-Fis are not operating on an individual level but are open for all. Public Wi-Fi is easily accessible by everyone be it customers of the shop or just travelers passing by and they are completely free. This means you can connect to the network and enjoy surfing without paying a single dime.
Public Wi-Fi attracts millions of users each year. According to a survey three out of 4 people are connecting to public Wi-Fi at some point or place and that too without giving it a second thought. As much as free surfing sounds cool, it is risky as well. There are multiple threats associated with public Wi-Fi as it is open networking and can be accessed by anyone, and this anyone even includes cybercriminals. Some common threats associated with public Wi-Fi are listed here for warning users how insecure it could be:
Public Wi-Fi and hotspots are the favorite hubs of hackers and predators. With public Wi-Fi, all the data that you send and receive is open for anyone to peek in. This data may include your personal and secretive details like emails, social media accounts, passwords, bank details, and other crucial stuff. The hackers act as the middle man between you and your designated sites and record essential details of your accounts. These details can be later used for any unauthorized or illegal purpose.
Hackers and other cybercriminals are smarter than you think. They not only keep an eye on your online activities but also look out for ways to invade your device. If the file sharing option of your device is turned on you are most likely to receive various system up gradation files to run. When you are on a public Wi-Fi, often these files are malware; a kind of virus that hijacks your device and allow cybercriminals to access all your offline data saved in your device.
When you are out in the streets or are in public places, there are various public Wi-Fis approaching your device. Some of these Wi-Fis are secured with a password while others are just open for all. The open public Wi-Fi is an actual threat as it can be created by bad guys with some wrong intentions. When your device is connected to a suspicious network, the hackers get hold of your device. They can not only peek into your device but can also use your device for any illegal purpose. You will not even get any notification of activities carried out through our device and stay ignorant.
Cookie theft is one of the major risks of using unencrypted sites. The sites that do not have SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) connection are quite vulnerable and cookies from these sites can be accessed easily by anyone. The risk of using these sites increases to a greater extent when you are on a public Wi-Fi as it provides zero protection against data theft.
Spying and keeping track of any user`s activity becomes a lot easier with public Wi-Fi. There are small hardware devices known as packet sniffer or a packet analyzer that is often installed by service providers to monitor the traffic on the network. But setting up these devices is very easy and can be installed by anyone making the task of spies and detectives easier. Data obtained from these devices reveal the statistics of all your online activities carried out through the network and can put you in danger.
Public Wi-Fi often serves as the medium of propagating viruses. There are advanced viruses, known as Computer Worms that propagates really fast through any network. Unlike the classical computer viruses that require a particular program to run, these worms can infest any device which is on the same network as the affected one. Since on public Wi-Fi, a large number of people are simultaneously connected to the same network, there are very high chances of your device to become a victim.
Staying safe on the internet is not an easy task and this task becomes more challenging while you are using public Wi-Fi. Free Wi-Fi has its own temptations and at some instances, it becomes unavoidable to benefit from it. Though public Wi-Fi can never be completely secure, there are few tips that will assist you in making your online presence less vulnerable.
Always keep your device Wi-Fi turned off when you are in public places and enable it only when needed. This may seem like an unnecessary hassle for frequent internet users but it is a mandatory thing to do while in public. If your device Wi-Fi is turned on, it can catch signals from all the available Wi-Fi in your surroundings and will automatically get connected to any open public Wi-Fi. Your device is at constant risk of connecting with malicious networks and getting affected by Worms when it’s Wi-Fi is active all the time.
Password protected public Wi-Fi are a bit safer than the open public Wi-Fi and are better to opt for. When a Wi-Fi is protected by a password it ensures that only authorized people can get access to the network and reduces the chances of having hackers on the same network. But if you really need to get connected to an open public Wi-Fi always confirm the name of the Wi-Fi with relevant people around. All the rogue Wi-Fi hotspot usually use similar names as the actual business Wi-Fi and you can easily fell prey to them if you are not cautious.
You must always be cautious while browsing any site on the internet as it is a world full of scams and cons. The risk turns multifold when you are using public Wi-Fi to access the unauthorized site. All the sites that are authorized and provide data encryption begin with HTTPS. These sites have SSL connection and are marked by a lock sign in the address bar. Sites without SSL connection do not take any responsibility of data shared through their sites which is definitely a risk factor and this threat increases if your Wi-Fi connection is unsafe too.
When you are on public Wi-Fi, all the data transactions to and fro your device is vulnerable to spying and snooping. Be vigilant about what you share while on public Wi-Fi and never carry out any important transaction through open networks. Remember your bank details and crucial business documents should not be risked due to mere negligence.
Also, limit your social media surfing through public hotspots as it paved the way for predators to your personal information. Logging in through a public network also provides cybercriminals easier access to our account details and password and make your accounts vulnerable to hacking. To stay safe, log in to your accounts only if needed and sign out as soon as your task is done.
VPN is the safest mode of surfing the internet and provides the best cybersecurity. It is a Virtual Private Network that allocates you an anonymous proxy that is usually located at a different place than your current location. It allows you to camouflage your actual identity and geographical location and keeps you safe from predators and spies.
VPN also provides an encrypted tunnel for all your online transactions and encode them in a way that nobody can access any piece of information during the transaction from one end to another. It eliminates all chances of peeking and snooping by any means.
Virtual Private Network also creates a shield between your device and incoming traffic and keeps malware and viruses at bay. Though it’s usually a paid service it is worth investing in.
As much as your connection needed to be secure, your device needs safety shields too. Protect your device by enabling the firewall on your device. It’s pop up notifications may be annoying but it will serve the purpose of protective shield for your device against data based malware threats. Even if you prefer to keep your device firewall turned off most of the time, enable it at least while using public Wi-Fi.
Anti-virus and anti-malware software is a must for your device security. It protects your device from invading viruses and alerts you if there is any suspicious activity in your device. Investing in an updated version of anti-virus software becomes more crucial if you use public Wi-Fi quite often on your device.
Whenever you connect with any public Wi-Fi remove the Wi-Fi and password from your device when you leave the place. Saved Wi-Fi is usually auto connected when comes in contact with the device again without alerting you and this may become a threat for your device security.
Public Wi-Fi cannot be avoided completely. They provide you with the facility to connect with the word while on the go and without paying any money. This free service is available at all places from educational institutes to institutional buildings. Whether you are out of your home country for business purposes or enjoying vacations abroad, free public Wi-Fi is certainly a blessing.
There are a number of threats associated with public Wi-Fi especially the ones without any password protection but you can keep yourself safe by following simple precautionary measures. These safety tips protect you from the general tricks and scams of hackers. But if you are a frequent public Wi-Fi user you must invest in paid VPN and authentic anti-virus software for complete security of your device and online transactions.
About Writer: Susan Alexandra is is a cybersecurity and privacy enthusiast. She is a small business owner, traveler and investor of cryptocurrencies. Susan’s inbox is open for new ideas and stories, you can share the story ideas to susanalexandra67(at)gmail(dot)com
(Security Affairs – Public Wi-Fi, hacking)