Everybody knows by now that the Internet is a fantastic invention, with the potential to help individuals or communities in ways we can’t even imagine. It is excellent for doing research, for numerous forms of entertainment, for keeping in touch with reality and the latest news around the world, and many other things.
The Internet, and specifically Wi-Fi, have come to change our lives. Once upon a time, it wasn’t possible to have the kind of efficient and instantaneous communication with people at other countries and locations, but today, you just have to go to a café, connect to its public Wi-Fi network, and you will be able to use WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and other Internet-powered apps and services.
However, the aforementioned process can derive from further and unexpected issues. Public networks are, by far, more dangerous when compared to private hotspots. Don’t let your desire to take advantage of free Internet fool you.
We are not saying you shouldn’t do it at all, but rather make sure the minimal security and privacy conditions are met and that your phone, laptop, mobile device and your connection can stay protected against many of the dangers of connecting to a public Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi Networks Dangerous Due to Multiple Connections
Public connections can be easily intercepted by hackers. They are cybercriminals prepared with software and skill to intercept the pathway between the public network and your equipment or connection. That, of course, may lead to catastrophic outcomes, such as the loss of valuable files, documents and data, a dangerous stranger having access to your banking credentials and account, passwords from all your social media sites, and many other inconveniences.
Why Are Private Networks More Secure than Public Networks?
Private networks with a strong password are also vulnerable to the attack of hackers, but to a much lesser degree than public hotspots. Many business managers or public places administrators in charge of managing a Wi-Fi access for their customers or users, depending on the place and the case, often dismiss the security issues and hazards of the online universe and don’t care enough to protect their network with robust passwords and other security measures and firewalls.
That is why, if you are at the airport or in a restaurant, you will be better off using your data plan, connecting to an Ethernet cable, using the HTTPS protocol whenever it is possible and hiring the services of a reliable VPN provider.
What does a VPN do?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and is an extraordinary security measure to take with the intention of staying anonymous and invisible while online. Because it implements encryption methods and protocols to hide your IP address and traffic, it can help you dodge hackers, viruses and malware present online, and even your Internet service providers and government agencies spying on your content.
Again, if you absolutely need to use a Wi-Fi at a café, library, airport, store and such establishments, you shouldn’t feel discouraged to do so. However, it is crucial for you to understand exactly why public networks are dangerous, so you could be better equipped and prepared to deal with the possible consequences, or better yet, preventing them.
Wi-Fi Networks Can Have Snoopers
The most obvious reason why a public network represents a huge danger to your digital assets is because third parties can gain access to your traffic if your network is unencrypted. Normally, private networks have a password that you would need to enter in order to access the connection, and without that, a user cannot see the content you are viewing even if they are within range.
Why are Public Wi-Fi Hotspots Dangerous?
That is because the traffic is encrypted between the router and the device you are using, be it a desktop computer or a mobile gadget. However, if you go to a mall, airport, library, or coffee shop, you would be connecting to an unencrypted network, putting yourself at risk of snoopers, or people spying on your traffic. Public networks don’t require a password to connect, which means that anybody can enter: that’s usually not good!
Having people around with the ability to spy on your data would mean that they could access registers of your online bank account, your email, and other sites and information. In public networks, your traffic is visible and unprotected.
Unfortunately, people often use tools and software to spy on other people’s traffic in public hotspots. When you are reading a book at the airport or sitting at the mall waiting for your wife to finish shopping, some stranger can take advantage of your distraction and, while in the same public network as you, capture and snoop your traffic using software such as Wireshark and Firesheep.
Wi-Fi Network Can Compromise Devices
Connecting to a public network can compromise your devices and put them in real danger of getting infected with a virus. Worse yet, you could lose relevant files, or lose access to them if you encounter a form of the Ransomware attack.
When you are establishing a connection to a public network, make sure to examine the Wi-Fi and connection options of your device at depth. If you use a Windows computer, when you connect to an Internet hotspot, you need to configure whether the nature of the said connection is a Public Network, a Home Network, or a Work Network.
To protect yourself and your equipment in a better and more appropriate way, you need to select the “Public network” Wi-Fi option in Windows, dismissing the Home network or Work network ones.The reasoning behind this is because the Public Network locks your connection and prevents Windows from sharing any of your files or crucial data with the other devices connected to the same network.
If you can, keep all of your systems up to date when it comes to security patches, upgrades, and similar stuff. In addition to that, implement a firewall, because your computer could be the target of an unknown attack.
Wi-Fi Networks Can be Malicious Hotspots
Sometimes the problem is not the people connected to the public network trying to infect your system with all kinds of malware. It happens sometimes that the issue are the hotspots themselves that may be already infected and if you join the party, bad things can happen to you.
Most business managers, café owners, airport administrators, librarians, and restaurant managers who provide an Internet connection to their customers or users don’t care so much about your online safety than yourself. There may be some exceptions, but the vast majority will not run safety checks, install firewalls, but antivirus software, get the latest security patches, and more related things.
Connecting to a honeypot network represents another sizable security risk when joining a public hotspot. These systems are set up by malicious people or attackers that trick people into connecting to steal relevant data and information from them, much like your average hacker.
You need to be especially wary about connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, especially if you want to access things like your online banking account. While the theory indicates that you should be safe because the communication is encrypted, that is not always the case.
Wi-Fi Vulnerable to Man-in-the-Middle attacks
A man in the middle attack occurs when a device positions itself between the user and the public Wi-Fi network. The danger of this situation resides in the ability of the mentioned device to intercept and alter the data that the user exchanges with the server in question.
For instance, the sslstrip attack can hijack the HTTP protocol, making the performance of banking transactions in public networks a very dangerous proposition. There are ways to protect yourself, but if you can avoid connecting to an open Wi-Fi, your overall digital safety will be enhanced.
Wi-Fi Vulnerable to Sidejacking
Users need to protect themselves from sidejacking, which consists on an attack in which the offensive agent implements a packet sniffer or software made with the intention to record and intercept traffic that is exchanged on a specific network, to hijack the cookies used to enter sessions in several sites (users and passwords.)
What can you do to protect yourself?
There are some measures you can take to protect your traffic, browsing history, usernames, passwords and more:
- Implement a Virtual Private Network (VPN) such as TorGuard. It will encrypt your traffic and IP address so you remain anonymous on the web while providing a versatile set of benefits.
- Avoid connecting to public Wi-Fi for online shopping or banking, where your credit card information could be discovered further along the road.
- Use the data plan on your phone or tablet when possible.
- Use two-factor authentications systems if you are connecting to some sites, making it more difficult for hackers to harm you in any way.
- Prioritize sites with HTTPS (which means Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure) over the regular HTTP protocol.
- Don’t forget to turn off automatic Wi-Fi connectivity.
- Pay close attention to your Bluetooth connection when you are in public places.
In conclusion, public networks can come in handy when you are in a rush, or you are just landing in a foreign country and need to communicate with your relatives or the people that is going to pick you up in the airport, just two names a few examples.
However, connecting to public hotspots is very risky for a number of reasons, so you would be better off avoiding the situation altogether or implement some critical measures, such as hiring a reliable VPN like TorGuard.