Public Wi-Fi, the Hidden Dangers

A Word From CCU
  • Posted on 12/6/2017
In your everyday life, you’re likely to come across free public Wi-Fi “hotspots”. They can be great for getting work done, managing your social media, and generally staying connected, but these public networks can also be a major security risk with threats lurking in the background.

What is public Wi-Fi?

Public Wi-Fi can be found in popular public places like airports, coffee shops, malls, restaurants, and hotels. These “hotspots” are so common that people frequently connect to them without thinking twice. Although it sounds harmless, performing any activity on public Wi-Fi can put you at risk.

While many businesses provide public Wi-Fi to their customers, chances are the security on these networks is weak or nonexistent.

There are a number of risks that go along with public Wi-Fi networks. Here are a few to be aware of.

Man in the Middle Attacks

One of the most common threats on these networks is called a Man in the Middle (MitM) attack. Essentially, a MitM attack is a form of eavesdropping. When a computer makes a connection to the internet, data is sent from point A (computer) to point B (service/website), and vulnerabilities can allow an attacker to get in between these transmissions and “read” them. So what you thought was private, no longer is.

Unencrypted Networks

Encryption means that the messages that are sent between your computer and the wireless router are in the form of a “secret code,” so that they cannot be read by anyone who doesn’t have the key to decipher the code. Most routers are shipped from the factory with encryption turned off by default, and it must be turned on when the network is set up.

Malware Distribution

Thanks to software vulnerabilities, there are also ways that attackers can slip malware onto your computer without you even knowing. A software vulnerability is a security weakness found in an operating system or software program. Hackers can exploit this weakness by writing code to target a specific vulnerability, and then install the malware onto your device.

Snooping and Sniffing

Cybercriminals can buy special software kits and devices to help assist them with eavesdropping on Wi-Fi signals. This technique can allow the attackers to access everything that you are doing online, including any information you may have filled out while visiting a webpage. They could capture your login credentials and possibly, hijack your accounts.

Malicious Hotspots

These “rogue access points” trick victims into connecting to what they think is a legitimate network because the name sounds reputable. Say you’re staying at the Sleepy Inn and want to connect to the hotel’s Wi-Fi. You may think you’re selecting the correct one when you click on “SlepyIn”, but you haven’t. Instead, you’ve just connected to a rogue hotspot set up by cybercriminals who can now view your sensitive information.

Virtual Private Network

The best way to know your information is safe while using public Wi-Fi is to use a virtual private network (VPN), when surfing on your device. A VPN allows you to create a secure connection to another network over the Internet. You can subscribe to VPN services like Golden Frog or NordVPN or use a VPN provided by your employer.

Fortunately, the situation is improving. The bigger and more established free public Wi-Fi providers are making efforts to minimize the security risks.

But to avoid the hidden dangers, you are best off avoiding public Wi-Fi hotspots and using your provider’s data plan or use a VPN service.