The Dangers of Public WiFi
WiFi is a miraculous invention that allows for simple and effective public internet usage over a wireless connection. With so many public establishments offering free wifi, it has become very easy to simply log in while you’re sitting at your local coffee shop and browse away.
Of course, there are some dangers that every user should be aware of while using the internet, especially if they are using public wifi. Although many public wifi providers employ stringent security measures to help curb illicit activity over their services, the use of public wifi still poses a very real danger to those who browse on it unawares.
So what kind of things should we be aware of when we’re using public wifi? What kinds of risks are we taking when we log on to public wifi hotspots unprotected? And what are some of the ways we can protect ourselves? The solutions can range from simple habit changes to finding the best VPN services out there to help protect your connection.
What are the risks?
The most obvious risk that goes along with unprotected wifi usage is identity theft. Hackers and other malicious actors are very proficient at scraping identifying information from little slip-ups in public and are ready to use that information to access your bank accounts and other secure services.
Another thing that you’re at risk of is the loss of privacy. People may be able to gain access to your private emails, documents, pictures, and video without your knowledge. Certain types of attacks can even give hackers access to your webcam and microphone long after you’ve logged off of the hotspot you were using!
These types of things can be very scary and unwanted, so it’s definitely important to try and curb these risks whenever you use public wifi. The first step to protecting yourself here is to stay informed. Knowing is half the battle, so you’ll want to know exactly how these hackers and no-goodniks plan on stealing your data.
How does this happen?
There are a number of crafty ways that hackers have of getting into your stuff and stealing what they want. Being aware of these strategies is going to be your main weapon against unsafe wifi usage. Keeping these sorts of malicious strategies in mind whenever you use risky wifi hotspots will cause you to act more cautiously as you connect and browse.
- Malware and spyware. This is malicious software that actors will try and illicitly install on your machine. With stuff like this, the possibilities are endless. The malware may just brick your computer, or it could hijack part of its processor for international espionage. Spyware is bad too and allows the attacker to mine data from your machine and potentially access sensitive information.
- Man-in-the-middle attacks are an attempt by a hacker or other entity to place their access in the middle of a connection that their victim believes is secure. The best way to think of this is to consider it similar to eavesdropping. The methods behind this can range from brutish to ingenious, but the end result is typically a loss of sensitive information.
- Malicious hotspots are wifi hotspots set up by hackers or other no-goodniks with special hidden settings that give them access to traffic moving through the hotspot, and potentially even the devices that connect to it. This one can be especially insidious because any hotspot you connect to in public can potentially be compromised. One thing to look out for is hotspots with names that don’t look right, or that are simple misspellings of trusted establishments.
- Snooping and Sniffing is similar to malicious hotspot usage but doesn’t require a compromised hotspot in order to work. Basically, hackers use special software kits designed to allow them to spy on wifi signals. Using this method, attackers can potentially gain access to everything you do online, so it’s important to always be vigilant.
There are a few easy steps you can take to make your connection more secure right off the bat;
- Disable any file sharing settings on your device. This will stop your computer from automatically sending and receiving files, which obviously makes it that much harder for malicious people to access them.
- Only use websites with “HTTPS” next to the URL. These websites employ encryption for security purposes and are safer to log into over public wifi channels.
- Always remember to turn off your wifi and Bluetooth when you’re done using them. This will prevent your computer from automatically connecting to illicit hotspots and compromised devices.
- Use a VPN. A virtual private network, or VPN, allows you to tunnel your connection through a private secure server. This lets you keep your identity safe while browsing and can also have other perks like unblocking region-locked content. The best VPN services also have malware protection features.