Many people don’t even think once before connecting to free Wi-Fi hotspots provided in coffee shops, hotels, shopping malls and other public places. However, while public Wi-Fi is convenient as it helps you pass the time or have some work done, it is also extremely vulnerable to hacking. Therefore, if you are not careful enough when using open networks, you may end up exposing your passwords, credit card details, photos, private conversations and other personal details you’d rather keep to yourself.
As cybercriminals are constantly looking for security gaps to exploit, every Internet user needs to be aware of the potential risks and learn to protect themselves online, especially when using unsecured open networks. So before you connect to a free Wi-Fi hotspot, read our security guidelines below and take necessary precautions to browse safely and privately.
The most common Wi-Fi security threats
Cybercriminals use a lot of techniques to exploit public Wi-Fi, but these 3 are the main ones you should worry about:
1. Man-in-the-middle attacks
Hackers can create their own network to stand between your device and the destination (website or service), making all your Internet traffic pass right through their eyes – hence “man-in-the-middle.” Once they have access to your communications, hackers can easily steal your sensitive information. What is more, they can intercept your traffic and lure you into malicious websites without you even noticing that something there is not right.
2. Wi-Fi sniffing
A method called Wi-Fi sniffing allows a cybercriminal to monitor a victim’s Internet traffic. If a wireless network is unsecured, hackers can easily get access to it with basic software, which is not even illegal. From there they can record all the data travelling across the network, and use it later for nefarious purposes, e.g., to get into your banking account or pretend to be you on social media.
3. Malware injection
Unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots are a perfect place for hackers to slip malware onto your device. Once there, it gives an attacker full access to all the information stored in your device, including your contacts, photos, videos, messages and other personal data that you may want to keep private. What’s more, they can turn on your microphone and cameras for further eavesdropping.
How can you stay safe on public Wi-Fi?
Unfortunately, all of the above-mentioned attacks are easy to pull off even for an unseasoned cybercriminal, so anyone can become a victim of a cybercrime. Here are a few tried and trusted tips to protect your sensitive data every time you are online, even when using an unprotected Wi-Fi.
- Never log into online accounts
If you care about your money, don’t even think about checking your account balance or buying something online when on public Wi-Fi. Also, avoid checking your work email or logging into your social media accounts. This is the best way to stay safe from cybercriminals looking forward to stealing your identity.
- Make sure Bluetooth is off
To be on the safe side, never use file sharing when on public networks. Bluetooth is necessary when you need to send your files or use wireless speakers at home or work. However, if you leave it on when using unsecured Wi-Fi, you also leave a hacker an easy way into your device.
- Get yourself a reliable VPN
It doesn’t matter how careful you are – hackers can find a way to trick you and lure into their traps. So investing in additional security tools is simply a must. By far, virtual private networks (VPNs) are the most reliable protection you can get to enjoy the benefits of public Wi-Fi and stay safe at the same time. A VPN routes your Internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel, making it extremely easy for hackers to intercept it and decipher. With a VPN on, you can safely do whatever you wish – shop for new stuff, send money to your mom, answer important emails or engage with your social media.
4. Browse Reliable Websites
There are a lot of websites which are not worthy to browse. Before you continue to any website, make sure that it is trustworthy. Websites with HTTPs are considered as secured and reliable sites as per Google. Ensure that you are not surfing any website without HTTPs and putting your data on that site. Websites with HTTPs have installed an SSL certificate that keeps your data secured using encryption protocol.
What’s more, a VPN hides your IP address, making your communications private from all kinds of snoopers, including your ISP. One thing to remember when signing up for a new VPN – do your research and choose a reliable service provider, such as NordVPN. The company has a strict no logs policy and encrypts your data with the most trusted security protocols. NordVPN offers easy-to-use apps for all major operating systems: iOS, Android, macOS and Windows, and has lightweight proxy extensions for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. For the sake of your privacy, turn a VPN on each time you’re about to join a public Wi-Fi hotspot.