These days it seems like everywhere offers free Wi-Fi. From airports, hotels, and coffee shops, it’s almost an expected future. However, many people are unaware of what they can do to ensure their own public Wi-Fi safety. Even something as simple as knowing to use a secured network versus an unsecured network, which doesn’t offer any type of security features, is news to many.
With that in mind, below is a look at the risks of using Wi-Fi in 2019. Learn about the different types of data breaches and attacks that can be performed over public Wi-Fi, as well as what you can do to keep your information safe.
Risks of Using Public Wi-Fi
When you use public Wi-Fi, you open yourself up to a variety of risks. The most common one is having your account and password information captured by a third party. Attackers are often able to intercept any information that flows across public Wi-Fi networks to gain access to your accounts, passwords, and more sensitive data like your credit card number.
Beyond that, some Wi-Fi adapters — the equipment used to help your device wirelessly connect to a web page — can be set to a mode where they monitor all the traffic flowing across the network. When compromised, attackers can see what you’re browsing and intercept any messages you send over email or instant messaging apps.
Finally, hackers can also use public networks to spread infections and malware. Once connected, devices can interact with the other computers and servers on the network, based on their sharing settings. Infected devices may use this opportunity to launch an attack other computers, especially ones with open sharing settings.
Types of Attacks
Now that you know what’s at risk when you use a public network, it’s time to take a closer look at what specific attacks can be used against devices like your computer, mobile phone, or home security system. The four most common types of attacks that can compromise public Wi-Fi safety include:
- Man-in-the-Middle attacks: Man-in-the-Middle attacks are the most frequent threat that you’ll face. In this case, an attacker positions themselves between your device and the legitimate network to which you are trying to connect. Instead of being sent where you intended, your information gets re-routed to the attacker.
- Malware: No operating system or software program is perfect and many attackers exploit those imperfections to their advantage. Hackers write code that targets security vulnerabilities in your systems and use them to inject malware, or viruses, onto your device.
- Snooping: There are specialized software kits and devices that allow hackers to eavesdrop on your online activity. This could include anything from knowing what websites you visit to gaining access to the information you’ve entered.
- Spoofing: Finally, attackers can create fake Wi-Fi networks that masquerade as legitimate ones in order to steal your information. This practice is known as spoofing.
Best Practices for Public Wi-Fi Safety
Given all the intrusions that can take place over a public Wi-Fi network, it’s in your best interest to educate yourself on public Wi-Fi safety. Luckily, there are some simple things that you can do to keep your information safe.
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a service that encrypts the data traveling to and from your device and connects you to a secure server, making it harder for people to access your info. That said, not all VPNs are created equal, so be sure to do your research before deciding which one to trust.
Whenever you can, you should elect to set up two-factor authentication. In addition to putting in your password, two-factor authentication services require a code to login. They will send this code, which changes regularly, to your phone or email. This makes it harder for attackers to access your accounts because, even if they have access to your password, they won’t have the code.
Many websites use encryption as a method of protecting your data when it travels from your device to their server. You can tell that a website is encrypted when it has “HTTPS”, rather than “HTTP”, at the beginning of the web address. In this case, the “s” stands for “secure”. Be sure to look for “HTTPS” on every web page you visit.
Put simply, if your phone is automatically connecting to unsecured networks, it is putting your information at risk without your knowledge. Turn off this feature so that you have control over which networks can gain access to your information.
When choosing a network to connect to, only use secure networks. These networks have protections in place to keep your information safe. You’ll know a network is secure if it requires you to agree to legal terms, put in a password, or register an account in order to use it.