We all laud the generosity of businesses and public facilities to provide free Wi-fi. However, most users often forget that free Wi-fi is of majorly aimed at attracting customers. Further, public Wi-fi sources are not IT or cybersecurity experts and as such don’t spend much effort into taking care of users’ security. As evidence of this, public Wi-fi hotspots usually lack standard measures such as:
- Secure access to the network
- Updated firmware on all networking equipment
- Online security compliance such as admin passwords and usernames
- Routine checks on the network to identify any instances of security compromise
Due to this massive lack of security and the fact that there are hundreds or even thousands of potential targets, free public Wi-fi networks are ripe spots for hackers. So, while you think of how using public Wi-fi is convenient, take it very seriously that your security is solely in your hands.
To plan effectively on how to maintain your safety, it is important to know what ways your safety can be breached as you use these networks. Below are the most common tactics cyber criminals use to harm public Wi-fi users. Tips on how to avoid falling victim of these criminals are given in each possible case.
Man in the Middle Attack
A commonly used method, the man in the middle attack is where the hacker places herself between you and the free Wi-fi router. The hacker can take complete control of the network, intercept all the requests you make and easily obtain the data she wants. The hacking process can take just a couple of minutes and all your data could be out there in malicious hands.
- Safety tip 1: Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN creates something like a tunnel for private transmission of data. It also encrypts your data so that no third party can actually see what you are doing online. ExpressVPN is one of the trusted VPNs for many public Wi-fi users today. It can give your full protection against man in the middle attacks.
Fake Wi-fi Access Points
Some cyber criminals know that users, in their eagerness to use free Wi-fi, usually don’t question the authenticity of the available network. The criminals make rogue networks in public spaces and set them as bait for unsuspecting users. Any person who connects to the networks is exposed to all manner of attacks. The cybercriminal can easily access the user’s device, steal sensitive data or share files.
- Security tip 2: Verify any free Wi-fi network before connecting. If you are in a coffee shop, hotel, airport, hospital, or whichever public space, check with a person who works there whether the Wi-fi network your device has identified is genuine. It might seem like a simple thing that can just be ignored but you don’t want to end up on the ugly side of being a victim of hacking. Just ask.
- Security tip 3: Also make sure you turn off automatic connection to available Wi-fi. This gives you a chance to manually inspect the available network before connecting.
Fake honeypots are more advanced forms of fake Wi-fi access points. A fake honeypot is usually set such that the name of the network and access password is exactly similar to that of the true Wi-fi network. Whenever you are connecting to a public Wi-fi and notice that you have two options with similar names, know that one must be a honeypot. It is there to capture users’ data for harmful uses.
- Security tip 4: Just in case you forget to verify the authenticity of the network, make sure you have up-to-date firewalls and antivirus. These security measures will at least make sure that no viruses or other harmful files can be injected into your system or device.
Intercepting Your Credentials
When on unsecured public Wi-fi, a hacker can intercept login credentials for your accounts, be it social media, eCommerce, or even bank accounts. Getting your credentials is often easy when the data is not encrypted. This is a brutal attack that can leave you on your knees especially where financial data is concerned.
- Security tip 5: Don’t access sensitive accounts over public Wi-fi networks. For example, avoid making payments from your bank accounts or shopping online. You will significantly reduce the probability of your personal and financial data falling in the wrong hands.
Practicing good internet usage habits and hygiene is everyone’s responsibility toward staying safe online. Cybercriminals are taking every chance to hack into internet user’s personal spaces. Don’t be the next case; do not ignore any loophole that can leave you exposed. The above tips should keep you a step ahead of public Wi-fi cybercriminals.