Why Using Public Wi-Fi Is A Risk? How to Stay Safe

Haseeb Awan
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June 20, 2024


Free public Wi-Fi may appear to be a luxury. Using an open Internet service is a convenient method to check emails quickly, scroll through social media, catch up on work, and call friends and family. But what we often overlook are the threats that come with it to our security and privacy. After all, it is not exactly free,huh?

Hackers threaten Wi-Fi users, but protections are in place to protect them. Employees have significantly benefited from the recent boom of free public Wi-Fi. You can easily find free internet at cafes, airports, hotels, bookshops, hospitals, and even random commercial shops. You are never more than a few miles away from the internet and your job. But this liberty comes with a cost, and few people are aware of the dangers of using public Wi-Fi.

However, if you stay vigilant, your vital corporate data will be safe, and you will know how to secure yourself.

When using public Wi-Fi, the best method to secure your personal details is to minimize browsing sensitive data or executing critical transactions. Other safety precautions can be taken as well. This article will discuss the risks of using public Wi-Fi, how to detect a malicious hotspot, and tips to secure yourself.

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Why Using Public Wi-Fi Seems Untroubled But Is Really Not?

Usually, the free public Wi-Fi connection is not safe. Simply because you have to log in with a password does not always imply your online actions are secure. For a range of reasons, public Wi-Fi can put you at risk. Here is why using public Wi-Fi is a risk to your security and privacy:

Outdated Encryption Standards

One explanation is that specific wireless networks use encryption technology. Another concern is the risk of connecting to a fraudulent or malicious Wi-Fi hotspot.

Many wireless systems may use outdated encryption methods, putting your privacy at risk. WEP (Wireless Encryption Protocol) is deemed weak and vulnerable to hacking the initial encryption standards for wireless networking devices.

Wi-Fi protected access (WPA) was supposed to take the place of WEP as the broadband wireless protocol, but it, too, was revealed to have flaws. Users are highly vulnerable when linked to a Wi-Fi network with specific ancient encryption techniques.

Malicious Hotspots

While using public Wi-Fi, you run the risk of connecting to a malicious hotspot. An attacker constructs a phony hotspot intending to perform MiTM (man-in-the-middle) attacks on unwary victims who connect to their unauthorized network in such circumstances.

If done right, cybercriminals will be able to retrieve interaction between you and the servers of the sites you visit, enabling them to view, add, and manipulate messages and information.

Even the most inexperienced cybercriminals can eavesdrop and track your web activity using pre-built tools to conduct MITM attacks, capturing valuable information like usernames and passwords, credit card details, and SSN (Social Security numbers).

Malware Attack

An unprotected Wi-Fi network can potentially be used by hackers to spread malware. If you enable data transfer over a network, an attacker can simply infect your machine with harmful software. Some clever cybercriminals have even hacked the communication link, prompting a popup message to display during the connecting process and proposing an update to a popular software program. The malware is installed when you click the popup. Your one innocent mistake can cost you a fortune.

Read About The Top Mobile Security Threats You Should Be Aware Of.

How to Detect a Malicious Wi-Fi Connection?

Attackers can exploit the fact that devices hunt for recognized Wi-Fi networks.

A hacker's malicious Wi-Fi hotspot can impersonate your home or public network, such as the one you could find at a local cafe or airport. Your machine connects to the hacker's fraudulent hotspot rather than an actual public Wi-Fi hotspot. It implies the attacker's connection is sandwiched between your gadget and the legitimate Wi-Fi connection, allowing them to monitor your internet usage.

Here is another strategy to consider. An attacker establishes a "Free Wi-Fi" open Wi-Fi connection and looks for targets to log in. Many users will likely try to join, mainly if free Wi-Fi service is available.

Else, you could be outdoors in a local cafe, and your laptop instantly displays that you have joined your home internet. However, the reason could be that your computer's broadcasting request was hijacked.

In certain circumstances, you may try to browse a website that you believe must be encrypted, like your bank or a social media platform — the website address starts with "HTTPS." The page, however, is rendered in "HTTP." Someone could be using a MiTM attack to deliver you the unsecured HTTP version of the website to steal your login details.

How to Stay Secure While Using a Public Wi-Fi?

As cellular Wi-Fi becomes more prevalent, Internet security concerns and public Wi-Fi dangers will increase. But it does not imply you have to abandon free Wi-Fi to tether yourself to a workstation. Most cybercriminals are looking for easy prey, so following a few steps will keep your data protected. Here are twelve tips for being safe while using public Wi-Fi.

  1. Be cautious about what you access. Avoid accessing critical information via an open Wi-Fi connection. You should be able to access the internet to look up directions, surf social media, or search on Google for a random fact. However, do not use public Wi-Fi to pay bills, make transactions, join a corporate meeting, etc.
  2. Always use VPN to connect to a public Wi-Fi, especially for work. When you enable VPN, it establishes a secured tunnel or private network over which you can transmit and receive data, giving your network an additional degree of security.
  3. While using public Wi-Fi, only visit websites with "HTTPS" and skip those that start with "HTTP." Website URLs that begin with HTTPS are secured, giving added protection and increasing your browsing safety.
  4. Download an extension such as HTTPS Everywhere to require all sites you visit to use HTTPS. This ChromeFirefox, and Opera browser plugin keep you safe online.
  5. Enable 2FA  (two-factor authentication) on all services that support it. It will guarantee that if a hacker gains access to your credentials while connected to public Wi-Fi, they cannot access your accounts. As it will require a login code (SMS or email).
  6. Adjust your device' Wi-Fi settings so that they don't join to open Wi-Fi hotspots automatically. This prevents you from connecting to public networks by accident. Turn off your device's "Connect Automatically" option, and you are good to go.
  7. Consider installing a privacy screen on your gadgets if you need to view private data in public places. A privacy screen will darken your display for everyone except you, preventing hackers from obtaining your data.
  8. Before using public Wi-Fi, ensure file sharing is turned off. If you leave file sharing enabled, anybody linked to the same network connection may be able to view them.
  9. Get a password manager app to secure all your passwords. Password manager creates challenging to guess and unique passwords for all of your internet accounts, and only you can unlock and access them with one complex master password.
  10. Keep your OS and software up to date by installing updates as soon as available. Security risks are common when software upgrades are not allowed, and your machines don't have the most up-to-date security system.
  11. Make sure you sign out of any sites you were using after exploring. Also, double-check your settings to ensure that your devices will 'forget the network' and not automatically rejoin if you come back into proximity without your consent.
  12. Even if you are not connected to free public Wi-Fi, your device's Wi-Fi hardware is still sending data among any networks within reach. There are protocols to keep this tiny exchange from jeopardizing your security. Always turn off your Wi-Fi if you only use your computer and not the internet.

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Even those who implement all feasible public Wi-Fi protection measures will encounter issues at the moment. As a result, it is critical to remain aware and take the essential safeguards. There will come the point in every business traveler's life when an unprotected, public free Wi-Fi hotspot seems to be the only connection available, and your assignment must be completed immediately. Recognizing the dangers of using public Wi-Fi will help you avoid becoming another hacker statistic.

Also, Read This Simple Guide on How to Set Up Your Own Home VPN

Haseeb Awan
CEO, Efani Secure Mobile

I founded Efani after being Sim Swapped 4 times. I am an experienced CEO with a demonstrated history of working in the crypto and cybersecurity industry. I provide Secure Mobile Service for influential people to protect them against SIM Swaps, eavesdropping, location tracking, and other mobile security threats. I've been covered in New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Hulu, Nasdaq, Netflix, Techcrunch, Coindesk, etc. Contact me at 855-55-EFANI or haseebawan@efani.com for a confidential assessment to see if we're the right fit!

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