Free Wi-Fi is accessible in public spaces like libraries, airports, coffee shops, shopping centers, restaurants, and hotel rooms. But most users need to be aware of how insecure free public Wi-Fi is. Even if the user needs a password to register in, that doesn’t guarantee the security of online activities. Hackers use public Wi-Fi vulnerabilities to scam users and get sensitive information from devices connected to the network. The user risks online identity and being scammed when public Wi-Fi is used without adequate security.
Cybercriminals can obtain the user’s personal information using shared public Wi-Fi by using two key attack types.
1. Hackers on the Same Network
Public Wi-Fi networks are prime targets because a hacker’s ultimate goal is to join a network where many users are already logged in. When the hacker gains access to such a network, the individual can use some strategies to take control of the whole communication system and data flowing through the network.
2. Hackers Who Design a False Wi-Fi Hotspot
This attack involves an additional trick the attacker may use to convince unwary users to sign up for a fake network. Through this, hackers can access private information, including financial information or social media login details, that may be essential to the user’s well-being. Attackers can easily access all the files if the user’s system file-sharing option is enabled.
Another strategy involves sending hoax notifications of a system update to the user’s device once connected to the fraudulent network, allowing hackers to push malware onto the user’s system. Instead of updating, the hackers install malware that can broadcast the user’s private information, such as photos, documents, or even communication, in real-time.
What Are Public Wi-Fi Security Risks?
1. Man-in-The-middle Attacks
The “Man in the Middle” (MITM) attack is among the most popular methods hackers use to eavesdrop on users of the same network. The MITM is where cybercriminals hijack communications between public Wi-Fi users and the public Wi-Fi router. As a result, these cybercriminals can record and view all data traffic. MITM is an eavesdropping method.
The information is transferred from one device to the website or service once a computer launches a connection to the internet. When there are vulnerabilities in the process, attackers hijack the process and read the information being transferred. Hackers can also use phishing to perform MITM.
2. Unencrypted Networks
An encrypted system transmits data in “secret code” between the user’s device and the public Wi-Fi router. The features ensure no one can access the data without a key. Encryption is typically disabled by default on public Wi-Fi routers, and the user will need to enable the feature during network configuration. A con artist can easily intercept the user’s web traffic and exploit the process for malicious purposes like MITM attacks if one connects to an unencrypted network. There are no criteria to determine whether the public Wi-Fi network has been encrypted.
3. Malware Distribution
Software loopholes also enable attackers to install malware on the computer. System software with a security flaw or weakness is said to have software vulnerabilities. Hackers exploit this flaw by creating a code targeting a vulnerability and infecting the device with malware.
Cybercriminals can purchase specialized software kits or hardware to facilitate snooping in on Wi-Fi signals. The technique allows hackers to access the websites the user has visited and any data that may have been entered while on those websites to obtain login information and even take over the online session.
How To Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi
1. Check and Configure the Network
The best action is to browse with caution because hackers are very good at scheming. Ask a staff member at the company if the link is genuine and carefully read the network name. Asking for the offering’s IP address is another option. The user also needs to disable sharing preferences.
2. Use VPN
Using a Virtual private network on public Wi-Fi enables users to connect to a VPN tunnel, through which one can receive and transmit, further securing the connection. Although some VPNs are cost-free, effective security features almost always require payment. Users should only use a VPN from trusted providers to ensure data safety.
3. Stick to HTTPS
When using free public Wi-Fi, only visit sites with an SSL certificate. The “HTTPS” indicates that a site has an SSL certificate. The user’s browsing is more secure when visiting websites with “HTTPS” in the URLs, which adds a layer of security. An individual’s traffic may be viewable to other users on the network while using “HTTP” addresses rather than “HTTPS” addresses when connecting to unsecured public Wi-Fi networks.
The user can consider adding an extension that compels all websites the user visits to connect via “HTTPS” to the browser. The Tor Project and The Electronic Frontier Foundation collaborated to create this extension for Firefox, Chrome, and Opera. Using this extension, the user can minimize the chances of visiting dangerous sites.
4. Use Two-factor Authentication
Users should take advantage of a website’s additional security measures while logging in. The term “two-factor authentication” simply refers to the requirement that the user provides a second factor in addition to the user’s password, which is the first factor to verify the identity. Although there are a few different ways to prove one’s identity, the most popular one is entering a code that an app or website texts. A two-factor authentication feature is available on the most popular apps and websites.
5. Don’t Give Away Too Much Information
When signing up for public Wi-Fi access, the user should be very cautious if asked for personal information, such as phone number or email address. The user can consider using backup addresses that aren’t primary ones if providing the addresses is a must to connect to public Wi-Fi.
6. Use Antivirus
Antivirus protects the user accessing internet services using public Wi-Fi by identifying malware that may infiltrate the system while on a shared network. The user should use the most recent versions of the antivirus installed programs on the device at all times. Antivirus displays a warning once the program detects virus downloads onto the device or any malicious attack, suspicious activity, or malware enters the system through a network.
5. Adjust Your Connection Settings
The user should set wireless devices up not to connect to any nearby public hotspots automatically. To prevent devices from automatically connecting and searching for known Wi-Fi networks, disable the “Connect Automatically” feature. By doing this, the user prevents devices from broadcasting connectivity to a home Wi-Fi network which could allow hackers to create a malicious network using the same name.
Public Wi-Fi seriously threatens individuals and corporates using the network for work. However, most people encounter a situation where the only available option for finishing up urgent tasks is a public Wi-Fi hotspot that is free, non-secure, and open to the general public. Connecting to free public Wi-Fi is attractive and challenging to resist due to the network’s convenience. An individual critical business data will remain secure if one is aware of the risks associated with public Wi-Fi. So, if using public WiFi is a must, the user should be cautious and take precautions to reduce the chance of personal information being stolen from these connections.