Whether you’re at work, in a bar, a hotel, or an airport, connecting to public Wi-Fi comes with huge risks. The more technology advances, the bigger the risk your personal information will be leaked when connected to public Wi-Fi.
Many users connect to public Wi-Fi networks. There is a chance that some users are only interested in looking at other people’s details, such as banking pins, online passwords, etc. This makes you vulnerable when connected to a public network.
There are ways you can protect yourself from being a victim. Before that happens, you need to understand why you are vulnerable.
3 Reasons Why You’re Vulnerable When Connecting to Public Wi-Fi
1. Public wi-fi networks usually don’t use the most up-to-date encryption standards.
Encryption of Internet traffic is meant to turn all data transmitted from your devices into an encoded version that cannot be read by prying eyes. Unfortunately, most public Wi-Fi networks use substandard encryption techniques that render your information accessible to any user on the same network.
The recommended industry standard, WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2), shields your information from dangerous users sharing the network with you.
However, few public Wi-Fi networks integrate this encryption protocol.
It is possible that password-protected Wi-Fi networks also have good encryption, but you wouldn’t know unless you connect to it first. Generally, if the network doesn’t require a password, it’s safe to say there is no encryption.
If you use an unencrypted (or poorly encrypted) network, anyone can see what you are doing.
2. Seemingly legitimate public wifi networks are actually fake
You may be joining a rogue Wi-Fi network. This implies that everything you do is open to everyone on the network, and he or she can sneak into the files and documents you thought were private.
The attacker can set up a seemingly legitimate network (e.g. ATT Wi-Fi) that is connected to the Internet, but all traffic goes unencrypted through the hacker’s devices. This is known as the Man-in-the-Middle Attack.
3. Public networks of hotels and event centers are still not safe
Although Wi-Fi networks might be well-protected and ‘highly passworded’ at hotels and event centers, the vulnerability of losing your privacy is still present since the password is given to other guests.
Hackers with the right tools can get your data in no time and even decrypt your data (assuming the network is encrypted).
What to Do to Protect Your Privacy
Ensure the Websites You Visit are Well-Encrypted
There’s a rise in the number of websites that now use encryption protocols, such as TLS (Transport Layer Security) and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). These protocols add a layer of protection to information between the website and its servers.
You can identify a well-encrypted website by checking if its address begins with “https” rather than “http.” (e.g. https://www.bankofamerica.com).
While this may add a layer of protection, it is far from perfect. A criminal using the same Wi-Fi can see what’s being transmitted between your computer and the website.
Plus, not every website uses SSL or TLS, and not all use it on every page. This means any information you enter into the website, such as logins and credit card information, might be visible to hackers.
Don’t Shop Online, Access Banking Apps, or Enter Sensitive Information While Using Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi isn’t safe no matter the encryption module. You will only be at higher risk when you access sensitive websites while on public networks.
As a rule of thumb, don’t ever enter any sensitive information, shop online, or access sites, such as a bank’s, while on public Wi-Fi. If you want to access any sensitive website, it is better to do it with your private data connection.
Configure Your Device’s Wireless Settings Not to Automatically Connect to Wi-Fi Hotspots
Whether on your smartphone or your personal computer, there are ways you can disable your Wi-Fi from automatically connecting to hotspots.
Some smartphones even give you the option of choosing not to automatically connect to Wi-Fi connections that require no password. This is important because you can choose the network you want to join before hackers peek into your device.
If you must regularly connect to public Wi-Fi hotspots, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A VPN creates a secure connection between your computer and the Internet regardless of whether the Wi-Fi network is secured. It funnels all your data through an encrypted connection and passes it on to the actual website.
Not all VPNs are created equal. Many VPN services are free, but you may not know how the service handles the data transmitted. To ensure the best protection, it is recommended to pay for a reputable service that is usually very affordable.
If you’re looking to get more familiar, TechRadar has just published a review of several options in the market for personal use. For corporate options, we recommend consulting an expert like Envision that can provide guidance of what would work best for your company.
Get a Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot Device
Many people call it Mi-Fi, mobile Wi-Fi, or portable hotspot. The point here is to just get one.
This device acts as a wireless router in a mobile form. You can connect them to many devices, such as your smartphone, tablet, PC, TV, etc. Portable Wi-Fi hotspots will serve you better on the go than connecting to unsafe public Wi-Fi.
You can easily set your dedicated passwords and encryption settings without the risk of being attacked by hackers. This is also great for business travelers and those who want to get productive because you don’t have to visit a public facility to connect to the Internet.
Now that you see how using public Wi-Fi can be a big issue, we advise you to never use a public Wi-Fi for websites that ask you for personal information.
But, if you travel a lot, and need to use free Wi-Fi, use a VPN.