Imagine your flight has been delayed and you’re stuck at the airport. What will you do to kill time? Maybe coffee? Duty Free? Book? If you’re anything like other people, you’ll start looking for a free WiFi. If this sounds like you, make sure you’re aware of public wifi risks and know how to stay safe on public wifi.
Here at StopAd, we take online security seriously. We were shocked to find out that around 6o% of Americans believe there are no risks associated with using public WiFi. We realized we should spread awareness and teach people how to use public WiFi safely.
So, What Are the Biggest Public WiFi Risks?
Here’s the cold truth. Whenever connected to public WiFi, your personal data, traffic, and even your identity are at risk. Hackers can hop onto the public network, see who you are, what you’re doing online, and steal all kinds of sensitive information.
Public WiFi risks come in many shapes and forms, but the following five are especially common:
Simply put, encrypted networks are safe networks. Not diving into tech terms, encryption is the way to protect information by make it look like a “secret code” that cannot be read unless a key to decipher the code is used. That’s why when the network you’re connected to is encrypted, it will take someone skilled in hacking to intercept and take advantage of your data.
The problem with public wifi networks is that many of them are unencrypted. Owners of public WiFi hotspots don’t do this intentionally to put you in danger. It’s just that when a new router is bought, encryption is turned off by default and the person in charge of setting up the network may forget to turn it on. Such a case of negligence makes it much easier for hackers to do their hacker job.
Compromised or Fake Hotspots
Some public WiFi hotspots you connect to are already compromised and programmed to send all your information directly to hackers, right away. When the entire WiFi network is compromised, information from all connected users passes through the hands of hackers.
As for the fake WiFi hotspots, they are another way for hackers to steal your information. Masked under the name of some genuine organization’s network, such fake hotspots are designed with the single purpose to transfer sensitive information to the hackers.
Snooping and Sniffing
Snooping and sniffing are the most common online security risks associated with using public WiFi networks. Armed with special devices or software kits, cybercriminals can eavesdrop on WiFi signals. Translating this into plain English, this means that attackers get access to whatever you might be doing online (yes, this means they can see all information you’re entering, including your credit card’s CVV code or login credentials) and use it for any sort of illegal activity imaginable.
Malware is another risk you face each time your device is connected to public WiFi. What makes public WiFi hotspots so popular among hackers is that open networks often have vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities allow hackers to inject malware into the network and then perform whatever malicious activity they want—from stealing your data to tracking you wherever you go online.
Unless you work in tech, chances are high the term does not mean anything to you. No worries, though. A man-in-the-middle attack is easy to understand. In fact, it is pretty much what it sounds like. When a device is connected to the internet, data is sent from a computer (point A) to a website or service (point B). What happens in the case of man-in-the-middle attack is that a hacker can take advantage of a network’s lack of protection and get between point A and B. Once this happens, this man-in-the-middle can “read” anything you do online. In other words, what you believed was private becomes visible to hacker’s eyes. Do we need to explain all the possible consequences of hackers being able to see your email and social media credentials or even worse, your credit card information? No, no we don’t.
If you’re a frequent user of public WiFi, remember that along with the convenience come risks. Each time you’re about to connect to WiFi that claims to be free, remind yourself that nothing in today’s world is really free. There is always a price to pay. In the case with public wifi, your personal data, credentials, or even identity could serve as the currency.