Unlike our password protected Wi-Fi connections at home or workplace Public Wi-Fi is a wireless internet connection available to everyone with or without a password so we can connect through hotspots publicly. Public Wi-Fi can be found most commonly at places such as coffee shops, libraries, airports, hotels, universities, etc. along with a password.
There is no argument free public Wi-Fi brings us convenience but quite often it also puts everything on our devices at risk. We all love jumping onto free internet so as to access online accounts, catch up on work, and check emails while on the go. Wireless internet connections sure help us work remotely and stay in touch with the world by putting us online, however on the flip side what happens when we connect our device(s) to a public Wi-Fi network and send information through websites or mobile apps, is that it can be traced, stored or possibly accessed by someone else. In this write-up we will discuss some additional measures we should be aware of.
What are the potential risks?
1. Unencrypted Networks
By encryption, it is implied that any kind of information exchanged between the computer(s) and the wireless internet connection shall remain a “secret code”, therefore, it cannot be viewed by any person who doesn’t possess the key to crack that code. Most companies now export Wi-Fi routers where the encryption is by-default turned off and we have to turn it on manually while setting up the network. However, there is no surefire way to tell if this has happened. Unless an IT professional configures the network on our devices, chances are slim that we already have encryption enabled. So we must request an expert to get it enabled.
2. Man-in-the-Middle attacks
When it comes to using public wireless connections, the most popular threat on open networks is known as Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attack – typically, a MitM attack is a form of eavesdropping. Whenever a device forms a connection to the Internet, the information, in whichever form it may be, is transferred from point A (a computer or any electronic gadget) to point B (a website or anything online), and an unguarded connection can facilitate an attacker to get in between these interactions and “read” them. Hence whatever we believed was private is not private the minute we press “send” or access any crucial information while staying connected to an unsafe internet connection.
3. Malicious Hotspots
Malicious hotspots are basically “rogue access point” – a wireless entree point installed on a protected network without any definite consent from the local network manager. It can be accessed by a well-intentioned operator or by a malicious attacker. These hotspots actually deceive victims when they connect with what they suppose is a recognized network because the name appears reliable. For example, we visit our nearest Starbucks during our trip to another city and wish to connect to the cafe’s Wi-Fi. We would assume we are choosing the right connection when we click on “starbucks,” but we did not. Rather, we ended up connecting to a rogue (access point) hotspot trick hosted by cybercriminals who are now able to access our sensitive information.
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The bottom-line is:
We all know free internet connection can be tempting when sitting alone waiting for someone and a very convenient way to access the online world in an instant, catching up on anything left in the middle such as reading through emails on the go whenever we get a chance. Nonetheless, security concerns in the digital world must not be disregarded. The best practice to keep our data and everything sensitive on our device(s) always secure can be done simply by avoiding accessing sensitive information and refraining from making sensitive transactions while connected with public Wi-Fi. However, here is a checklist to assure a safe track.
Some crucial Dos and Don’ts:
- Never permit your device’s Wi-Fi to auto-connect to open networks. Change the settings.
- Don’t log into any account through an app, predominantly the one that carries delicate data. It is preferable to go to the website and verify if it has HTTPS before putting your credentials through. Only trust the websites which use HTTPS at the beginning of their URL.
- Never leave your Wi-Fi or Bluetooth constantly on and auto-connect with anyone unless or until in use. Also disable file sharing.
- Do not go to the websites that possess any kind of sensitive information which you might not want someone else to access, like financial & banking websites, anything you have bought, or healthcare accounts.
- Try not to log onto a random network which isn’t password protected.
- Keep a VPN handy in your device(s), if you need to use public Wi-Fi in order to assure your activities, when connected with public Wi-Fi connections, are hidden.
At the end of the day, it still boils down to making sure you’re connected to a trusted, Wi-Fi connection like you have at home. So, if you haven’t already, make sure you check this link to read DailyWireless’ review of CenturyLink, the 3rd-largest DSL internet network in the U.S.