Long story short, they’re not
Accessible almost everywhere nowadays, public WiFi is so convenient that the consequences are very often overridden, or completely forgotten about. There’s been a time where all of us have succumbed to the desperation of needing to respond to a crucially important email, our only saviour being the public WiFi at Costa Coffee down the road.
Convenience is key, right? Until you’re left completely vulnerable to the risks associated with connecting to open, unsecured WiFi networks.
The difference between public and private networks
Private networks are exactly that – private. The traffic that you generate by searching on Google, Facebook or Instagram, is safely hidden behind a layer of encryption that we’ve come to know as our WiFi passwords. Passwords are not used for open networks (making it an unencrypted network), meaning that anyone curious enough to take a look into the router can snoop on your searches. Now, if you’re using the network to swipe left or right on Tinder, you’re probably going to be just fine. You might generate a few giggles maybe. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that you can browse anything that tickles your fancy and no one will take notice – very, very untrue.
Lets face it, most human beings can be nosey and if you say you’re never nosey, you’re lying. That’s not to say that your average non IT-savvy individual enjoys spending their time nosing through routers by choice, however the individual or co-operation supervising the router may well do.
Cybercriminals seek and indulge the benefits of snooping through piles of your data. Purchasing software tools and devices that help hold their hand in hacking into your personal accounts and stealing your login credentials, is an essential strategy in their success.
A Man in the Middle attack – one of the most common dangers opposed on open networks. Similar to snooping, an MitM attack is a form of eavesdropping. How the internet works is when you are connecting to a network, data is transmitted from your machine to whichever website or service you’re using. During this transmission, an attacker can tiptoe into the cracks and crevices of the data and study exactly what you’re searching and inputting. Creepy, right?
Did you know that hackers can install Malware on your computer or device just by you connecting to the internet? Code written by the hacker can be created specifically for the purpose of injecting malware onto your device, into a precise vulnerability in the software or operating system that you’re using. What’s even more frustrating than obtaining malicious software in the first place, is that complete disposal can sometimes be both a lengthy and pricey process.
Fake ID’s don’t just exist in the world of underage clubbing either. The fact that a harmful WiFi domain could be impersonating a company or destination (also known as a “rogue access point”), is something that generally goes over our heads. For example, say you’re out for lunch at Best Sandwiches and you want to connect to the restaurant’s WiFi, so you go to search for an open WiFi network, and see one named “Best Sandwiches free WiFi” – this must be their network, right? Wrong. You are now connected to a “rogue hotspot” set up by Cybercriminals who have gained access to your private information, but you’re none the wiser and that’s the idea behind it. Hackers wouldn’t be hackers if they weren’t annoyingly cunning and crafty.
So, it’s all well and good to be aware of these possible threats, but how can we prevent them from happening?
- Do not allow your phone to automatically connect to open WiFis
- Do not log into private accounts when using unencrypted networks, e.g. online banking
- Turn off your WiFi and Bluetooth when they are not in use
- Disable file sharing on your mobile
- Check that every site you visit begins with HTTPS
- Install a VPN, such as Norton WiFi Privacy, to protect your privacy
- Log out of accounts once you’re finished using them
- Always ask a member of staff for their WiFi name and password
Not logging in to open networks at all is also an option… just so you know…
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