Public Wi-Fi networks are available on every corner. If we want to go online, we can take advantage of a public hotspot at the airport, on the train, in a library, etc. Also, mobile Wi-Fi has become increasingly popular, so the risks associated with using public Wi-Fi have increased over time as well.
Naturally, a public Wi-Fi network is less safe than a personal one. As an illustration, we will give you several arguments.
First, we don’t know who had set up a public Wi-Fi. Second, we have no idea who is using it since any passerby (including hackers) can connect to it. Third, public Wi-Fi is not encrypted, which means that the data we send over the network can easily be hacked. Finally, we need no authentication for network connection.
In many cases, it is useful to have anti-virus software and firewalls. Yet, in case of public Wi-Fi, they don’t provide full security. Given these points, let us go through potential risks associated when using public Wi-Fi.
Risk 1 – Fake rogue hotspot
Rogue hotspots often let any person with a Wi-Fi device connect to their network. Sometimes, attackers set up “free” Wi-Fi networks, most often in locations near hotels or restaurants. At first glance, their Wi-Fi connection seems legit and it has a name that sounds good (e.g., “Hotel X Wi-Fi”). However, it turns out it’s an “Evil Twin,” a fake network set up by a hacker with the aim to lure us.
That way, hackers can see all our traffic and maybe ask us to pay for access by giving away our credit card numbers. It also happens that they trick us into downloading “free” software upgrades.” For example, if we have little or no experience, we might think it’s a legitimate ad. However, we may end up with a Trojan horse on our device.
Risk 2 – Man-in-the-Middle Attacks
There are many ways for an attacker to make a mess in the conversation between two parties. The easiest one, for instance, is to locate himself between clients and the router.
One of the popular forms of session interruptions is about Man in the Middle (MITM) attacks. To those who are not in the know, an MITM is a type of a cyber attack in which a hacker can sniff out any information between us and the websites we visit. While using hacking tools, a hacker sends or receives our data instead of us. Moreover, they can get a hold of the router’s identity.
Unfortunately, by the time we find out, it is usually too late. A hacker could use a phone instead of a laptop, and it can be any “harmless” individual around us. To put it another way, we can hardly recognize the real culprit.
Risk 3 – Sniffing and Snooping
Most of the time when we connect to an open Wi-Fi, the network is not encrypted. It means we don’t need a passphrase to connect. In that sense, our traffic is visible, and anyone can hack our data over the network with the help of special tools and software kits.
There are two forms of eavesdropping our communication on the web – sniffing and snooping. In each of them, a malicious actor uses software to intercept our data. For example, a man sitting at the next table in a coffee shop could snoop our session with a Firesheep. Also, a woman in a red dress can use a Wireshark to capture our traffic.
Risk 4 – Sidejacking
There are many ways in which your identity can be stolen. More often than not, we need to type our username and password on a website for authentication. For instance, captive portals or log-in pages ask us to share our info, and this can be a moment for hijacking our session.
In sidejacking, an attacker uses a packet sniffer to intercept or log our traffic and wait to steal unsafe (SSL) cookies. These cookies contain valuable info from the sites such as Facebook, so any hacker with an Android phone can steal our Facebook credentials. Moreover, they can hijack our banking sessions or use our e-mail address to visit adult sites.
Risk 5 – Malware and Worms
Public Wi-Fi is an ideal place for hackers to distribute malware. It often happens that we simply click the window and install the malware. That way, our computer or our mobile phone gets infected software. Unfortunately, this harmful malware can cause damage to our system.
What makes us easy prey is sharing files on our devices. Any time we use that option, hackers can insert Ransomware into our device. If it gets infected, they may encrypt our data and ask for a ransom to unlock. What’s more, they may even break our system and wipe out our hard drive.
In the long run, one of the most worrying issues may be the fact that the hotspot itself could be malicious. The fact is that the hackers could even hack the connection point itself.
Are there any safe options for using public Wi-Fi?
Some would say it’s better to use a smartphone as a hotspot instead. On the other hand, there are those who prefer not to use it all. Be that as it may, here are some tips on how to protect yourself:
Install VPN (Virtual Private Network) on your device. It not only blocks the hackers but also hooks you up to a safe server.
Access only to the sites with a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate. It will provide safe encryption between your device and the server.
Always use HTTPS and encrypted HTTPS websites, especially when you give away your credentials.
Avoid access to sensitive sites like e-banking or e-commerce.
Choose familiar public Wi-Fi networks that belong to companies (e.g., McDonald’s).
Turn off file sharing option on your PC or another device, so that nobody on the same Wi-Fi network can steal your files.
Always check what you are signing up for.
Don’t download or install anything new.
Keep Wi-Fi off when you don’t use it.
All things considered, there’s no need for you to stay away from public Wi-Fi. These tips are just to remind you how to stay out of trouble and to avoid becoming a victim of cybercrime.