The risks of public Wi-Fi and how to stay safe

October 17, 2019  |  Mjellma Gonzalez

guy in an alley on his smartphone

Photo by laura kelly on Unsplash

In a bid to entertain their customers, airports, coffee shops, shopping malls - and literally all public places- provide free Wi-Fi. And because the traffic in and around these places is exceedingly high, their Wi-Fi networks aren’t as secure as you’d imagine. For what it is worth, your privacy can never be sufficiently protected by a 5 or even 10-digit login password that you are given. Data thieves are wittier and more determined to mine your data than ever before; they will bypass that password protection in a heartbeat!

If you are a lover of public Wi-Fi, you should always know that hackers are hunting for your browsing information. The intention of this post isn’t to scare you, though. We want to share with you tips on how to adequately protect your online identity and possibly your money.

The risks of using public Wi-Fi

Cyber-criminals love to spy on unsuspecting internet users on shared public Wi-Fi because it is not only easy and effortless but also untraceable. They mostly gain access to your browser through these two main ways:

1.      Creating fake Wi-Fi

Many internet users will log into a network without caring who set it up and for what purpose. You just happen to be in the subway and a Wi-Fi network that you’ve never heard of pops up on your phone and boom! You are in without thinking twice. What you don’t know is that hackers are tech-savvy people who can create a fake Wi-Fi that steals your data in a heartbeat. Before you know it, your personal, financial, and social information is gone. The most unfortunate thing, however, is that even after the hackers steal your most sensitive information through a fake Wi-Fi hotspot, you may never suspect a thing until after the damage is done.

2.      Taking over a legit network

If a hacker gains entry into a Wi-Fi, it doesn’t matter if whoever set it up was legitimate or not; all the users connected to that network are in for it. Once in the network, the criminal takes control of the server, meaning that he/she has all the data and communication anyone sends over that network is at the palm of his hand. How he uses that data is up to them.

3.       Sending you malware

If your computer’s file-sharing feature is enabled, a hacker with whom you share a public Wi-Fi network can effortlessly send a file containing malware to your computer. Depending on how advanced the malware is, it can turn your webcam on and start spying on you, or simply lie low and be stealing your data behind the curtains.

3 Tips for staying safe when using a public Wi-Fi

Even as vulnerable as you could be when using public Wi-Fi, it is possible to limit the extent of the probable damage that hackers pose. Here are a few safety measures that will keep you safe(r).

1.      Avoid hotspots that require too much sign-up or login information

If you accidentally find yourself in the hackers’ den, suffocate them with a lack of information. Don’t be quick to give away your phone number, your email address, your location, and such personal data to a network just because you are required to before you are allowed in. Not many legitimate networks will ask for that much information.

2.      Encrypt your data with a VPN

With a VPN (Virtual Private Network), you are guaranteed that your data is safe regardless of the network you are in. if you are often logged on to public networks, then it would help if you could afford to use a VPN and use it to encrypt your data traffic.

VPNs work by acting as a protected avenue that your browser connects to a secure remote server, such that any data that goes through that avenue is hidden from the spying eyes of the hackers. And because your browser isn’t visible to them, they cannot access your information or monitor your online activity.

3.      Turn off file sharing

If the file-sharing feature is off, a hacker will have no means of sending a harmful malware to your mac, smartphone, or computer. This feature makes file sharing between devices on a shared network effortless and frictionless. While at it, ensure that your device is running on the newest software that is least likely to be infiltrated.

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