In today’s increasingly technological society, public Wi-Fi is found almost everywhere: airports, hotels, malls, restaurants, and coffee shops to name a few. Since it is so commonplace, most of us connect to the free Wi-Fi without thinking twice. While it may seem harmless to check social media or the balance of your bank account while sipping on coffee at the local café, using public Wi-Fi could be putting you at risk.
Some of the methods that cybercriminals use to make public Wi-Fi vulnerable include:
Fake Hotspots – A public Wi-Fi hotspot that is set up by cybercriminals in public places, waiting for unaware users to connect. While you think you are getting free Wi-Fi, they are actually stealing your personal information.
Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks – An attacker virtually places themselves between your computer and the site or application that you are attempting to communicate with, allowing them to read or alter communications without your knowledge.
Malware Distribution – Software vulnerabilities may enable attackers to put malware onto your computer without your knowledge, allowing them to export your information or attempt to scam you into removing the malware.
Wireless Sniffing – There is a variety of hardware and software that allow for malicious users to eavesdrop on Wi-Fi signals, giving them the capability to capture unencrypted information sent and received over wireless signals.
The best way to secure your personal information is to avoid using public Wi-Fi whenever possible. If you must use public Wi-Fi regularly, consider using a paid VPN service like “NordVPN” or “Private Internet Access VPN”. Using a VPN will ensure that any traffic sent or received over Wi-Fi is encrypted. If you choose to select a VPN provider, it’s best to avoid free VPN services which would permit free providers to log your traffic and release this data to third parties. If you must use public Wi-Fi, and purchasing a VPN service is not an option, there are important precautions to take to decrease your risks:
- Confirm the website you’re browsing is using HTTPS and not HTTP when entering any personal username or password.
- Use Two Factor Authentication when available. If your username and password are compromised, the attacker will be unable to access your account in the future.
- Log out of accounts when you are not using them.
- Be sure your computer’s software is up to date
- Enable your computer’s anti-virus and firewall.
- Turn off Wi-Fi when not using it.
- Do not access personal bank accounts or sensitive personal data, especially on unsecure public hotspots.
- Avoid letting your device connect to unsecure networks automatically. Instead, manually connect if needed.
- Turn off file sharing when accessing public networks.
While cybercriminals are becoming more tactful and efficient with their attacking methods, it is our responsibility to be sure we are protecting ourselves at all times. Be cautious when accessing public Wi-Fi and enjoy that cup of coffee at the local café knowing your personal information is safe.