Public Wi-Fi: A menace and a necessity

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Whether you are a remote worker, a frequent traveler, or simply someone who likes to stay connected all the time, you have likely used a public Wi-Fi hotspot. They can be found in airports, restaurants, coffee shops, libraries, public transportation, hotel rooms, and many other places. These Wi-Fi hotspots can be a lifesaver when you’re on the go, but they’re not without their risks. 

What are the risks of using public Wi-Fi?

Public Wi-Fi is a risky proposition, as it has many potential security vulnerabilities. Business owners may think they are providing a valuable service by offering public Wi-Fi, but the security of these networks is often lacking. Below are some common risks users face by logging on to public Wi-Fi:

  • Man-in-the-middle attacks

A man-in-the-middle attack (MITM) is a type of cyberattack where an attacker secretly relays and possibly alters the communications between two parties. The attacker typically accomplishes this by positioning themselves between the two parties, such as by setting up a rogue Wi-Fi hotspot or by intercepting traffic between two devices on a wired network.

Once the attacker is in the middle, they can intercept all of the traffic between the two parties and read, modify, or even drop it. This allows the attacker to steal sensitive information such as passwords, credit card numbers, or private conversations.

  • Malware distribution

Malware distribution is the process of delivering malware to a victim’s device. It can be done through email attachments, websites, drive-by downloads, piggybacking, and unencrypted public Wi-Fi. Once malware is installed on a victim’s computer or smartphone, it can steal data, damage files, or even take control of the device.

  • Wi-Fi snooping and sniffing

Wi-Fi snooping is the act of monitoring the traffic on a Wi-Fi network without authorization. This can be done by using a Wi-Fi sniffer, which is a software program that can capture and analyze Wi-Fi traffic. Wi-Fi sniffing is a more specific type of Wi-Fi snooping that involves capturing unencrypted data packets, including usernames, passwords, and other sensitive information.

  • Malicious hotspots

Malicious hotspots, also known as rogue access points, are fake Wi-Fi networks that are set up by hackers. These networks are often named to look like legitimate networks, such as the Wi-Fi network of a coffee shop or hotel. When a user connects to a malicious hotspot, the hacker can intercept their traffic and steal their personal information.

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How can I stay safe on a public Wi-Fi network?

Sometimes, it’s unavoidable to use public Wi-Fi, especially if you’re in a foreign country and need to communicate with colleagues or family members before you are able to acquire secure connectivity. If you are in a situation where you need to connect to public Wi-Fi, follow these tips:

  • Avoid accessing sensitive information

When using a public Wi-Fi network, it is best to avoid accessing sensitive information, such as your bank account details, credit card numbers, or passwords. For less sensitive tasks, such as browsing the internet or checking your email, public Wi-Fi is usually fine. However, if you need to pay bills or shop online, it is best to wait until you can connect to a more secure network.

  • Use a VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) is a great way to minimize public Wi-Fi security risks. When you use a VPN on public Wi-Fi, your data is routed through a private network, or VPN tunnel, before it reaches the internet. This adds an extra layer of security to your connection, making it more difficult for hackers to steal your data.

  • Only visit secure websites

When using public Wi-Fi, only browse websites that have a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate. An SSL certificate is a digital security certificate that authenticates a website and encrypts the data that is transmitted between your device and the website. This makes it much more difficult for hackers to steal your personal or confidential data.

You can tell if a website has an SSL certificate by looking at the URL in the address bar of your web browser. If the URL starts with “HTTPS,” then the website has an SSL certificate.

  • Use a physical privacy screen

If you must access sensitive information in public areas, consider using a privacy screen. A privacy screen is a filter you attach to your device’s screen and prevents anyone viewing your screen from the side. This makes it much more difficult for fraudsters to steal your information by taking a picture of your screen.

  • Remember to log out

When you are finished browsing on a public Wi-Fi network, it is important to log out of any services that you were using. This includes social media accounts, email accounts, and banking websites.

You should also check your device’s settings to make sure that it will “forget” the public Wi-Fi network. This will prevent your device from automatically reconnecting to the network the next time you are within range. Forgetting the public Wi-Fi network can help minimize the amount of time that your device is connected to the network. This can reduce the risk of your personal information being stolen by hackers.
Public Wi-Fi can be a convenient way to get online, but it’s important to be aware of the risks. If you ever need to connect to public Wi-Fi, be mindful of your online activities and always take every precaution available to protect your privacy. To learn more about the risks of public Wi-Fi, you can consult with the cybersecurity experts at Refresh Technologies. Contact us today to learn more.