pros-and-cons of free public WiFi.

Pros and Cons of Free Public WiFi Amidst a Crisis

Nothing could be better than dining out at your favorite restaurant, connected to their free WiFi, and having the meal you’ve been long craving.

Sadly, due to the global crisis and the pandemic in full swing, it’ll take a while before things go back to normal. No one is eating at restaurants anymore, but that also makes their WiFi networks wide open and available for anyone to use.

Privacy experts fear that coronavirus will lead to an increase in cyberattacks. As more and more companies shift their workforce towards a work from home culture, cybercriminals are busy launching their own ‘virus.’

Working from home sounds great, but you no longer remain under the secure umbrella of a company’s IT infrastructure. This means you could be connecting to a free public WiFi that’s nearby your home or connect to your unsecured home WiFi and potentially put your online activities at grave risk.

Pros and Cons of Free Public WiFi

Although public WiFi networks are good for staying connected on the go, they’re also notorious for being easy for hackers to spy on and see more than just the memes you send to your friends.

Even though public WiFi hotspots have been around since the early 2000s, it is only recently that people have become generally more aware of online privacy and security due to massive data breaches. However, there are several vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit when you’re connected to a public WiFi.

For instance, many public WiFi networks use no password or encryption of any sort. In this case, cybercriminals can see all the traffic on the network you’re connected to. What’s shocking is that you don’t need to be a skilled hacker to spy on others as there are plenty of software available on the web that enables spying on unsecured networks a reality.

Does WPA2 Make it Safe?

While you might assume that a public WiFi that uses a password (WPA2) is safe, it would somewhat be true under a controlled home setting with people you trust. However, in a public place like a café, airport, or a shopping mall, anyone with a password who connects before you do can spy on your online activities.

Public WiFi networks are also susceptible to man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. MITM attacks are when an intruder is sitting in between your device and the internet looking at all of your online communications as they are sent and received.

More often, attackers on a public WiFi network will set up a fake WiFi hotspot that looks like a legit network. If you connect to it, your entire internet traffic will go right through the attacker’s computer, possibly enabling them to view everything you’re doing online.

Impact of COVID-19

With crises arises an opportunity, and cybercriminals don’t shy away to profit from someone else’s misery. As you work from home connected to an unsecured public WiFi or a private WiFi network, hackers will target you regardless.

During this time of crisis, both employers and employees need to ensure that their online connection is secure so they don’t end up compromising theirs and the company’s confidential information.

How to Protect Yourself on a Public WiFi

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to protect yourself when you connect to a public WiFi or a private WiFi network:

  1. Use HTTPS as it encrypts your connection. Several websites, especially social networks and shopping sites, use HTTPS to secure your credentials and your credit card information. This is becoming increasingly more important for webmasters anyway, so double-check that you are on the HTTPS version of any website you visit.
  2. Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for more serious security. A VPN will create a secure tunnel between your device and a secure server that encrypts all traffic even if a site doesn’t use HTTPS.
  3. Always ask a representative to verify the name of their WiFi network before you end up connecting to a fake access point.
Ather Owais Ather Owais is a tech and cybersecurity enthusiast. He is a strong advocate for online privacy and security, following technological trends and their impact on today's digital era.

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