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Public WiFi Security

Nearly 65.44 million people in the US use Public Wi-Fi. The exchange of data or information over a public wifi network can be intercepted by a third-party with ease. Many users are unknowingly risking their security when they share their personal information over the internet.

People use WiFi networks on a regular basis to shop online, make video calls and make money transfers to name a few. If their device is left unprotected, their information is left vulnerable to security threats.

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How Secure Is Public WiFi?

With over 350 million Public Wi-Fi Hotspots available globally, people are putting their personal information at risk as public wireless networks are not as safe when compared to a home network which is usually running a WPA2.

WPA2, is a Wi-Fi standard that makes it obligatory for a network to be password protected. This is one security measure that may not be present in a wireless network that you would use at a random coffee shop.

Moreover, Public WiFi is inherently flawed because one is not aware of who set up the access point. There have been cases where attackers set up a WiFi Pineapple forcing users to connect to a fake network that looks legitimate.

Therefore, it is firstly not recommended to use an unsecured network. The better option would be to use your own smartphone as a hotspot. In the case that you are not carrying your device, you will be able to limit or eliminate potential threats by using the steps mentioned below.

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Public WiFi Security- Safety Tips

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Set Up Two-Factor (2FA) Authentication

Two-factor authentication is an additional verification step that prevents unauthorized access to your online accounts, even if your credentials have been stolen through open WiFi. Therefore, it is a good idea to enable it wherever possible. In most 2FA deployments, you will be asked to confirm your identity by entering a special code sent to your phone via text message.

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Limit AirDrop and File Sharing

When you are using a public wireless network, you should disable any features that enable file sharing on your laptop or smartphone. That is because it allows strangers on that network to access your files with ease and opens doors for them to plant malware or spyware on your device, putting your personal information at risk.

Additional Safety Measures: Before and After You Connect To a Public Wi-Fi

You are better off configuring your device to ask before connecting to available hotspots. This will ensure you do not automatically connect and search for networks that you have connected to previously.

After all, hackers can easily spoof a WiFi connection’s broadcast name, also referred to as SSID, and snatch the information you are transmitting.

It is better to stick to trusted networks such as the one in Starbucks or McDonalds, rather than a random hotspot that pops up in a dodgy location.

They could be legitimate, but if anyone can just connect to it for free, how does it benefit the network’s owner? Being extra cautious and using a little common sense will protect your data from being compromised on public networks.

If you are trying to connect to a open WiFi and see multiple networks with a similar name, it is recommended that you proceed with caution.

These are set up by hackers to lure unwary users and steal their information. Always verify the right name of the public wireless network by speaking to the establishment’s owner or the staff working there.

Before using a public wireless network, make sure to go through the terms and conditions. It will help you identify any red flags with regards to the type of data they collect during your sessions and what they will do with it.

Moreover, if you are asked to install additional programs or browser extensions, then do not click through at any cost.

Be extra cautious of public wireless networks that ask for personal details, such as phone number or email address, when you are signing up.

Most businesses do this in order to tailor their marketing strategy according to consumer behavior. So, it is up to you – whether you want to give away your information for free Internet access or not.

You must only use sites that begin with “HTTPS” and steer clear from sites that begin with “HTTP” on public WiFi. Since HTTPS sites are encrypted, they add an extra security layer using Transport Layer Security (TLS) or Secure Socket Layer (SSL).

This not only makes your browsing more secure, but also protects your data from hackers on that public network.

Until the new WPA3 is widely available, which will bring more built-in security features to simplify WiFi safety, users need to focus on patching all software like web browser and antivirus as soon as updates are available.

Failure to do so means that you are missing out on the latest protections, making you an easy target on public wireless networks.

If possible, avoid carrying out sensitive tasks like using your credit card, paying your bills, or logging into your bank account when connected to public networks.

It is best to save financial transactions for when you are using a private network, such as the one at your home. These are not only more secure, but also far less likely to be targeted by hackers.

If you do not need to use the Internet and are in range of a public wireless network, you should switch it off right away.

It is hardly going to take a few seconds and will protect you from being discovered by snoopers that lurk close by without drawing any attention towards themselves. Simply turn on the device’s WiFi again if you wish to reconnect to the Internet.

The most effective way to stay safe on open WiFi is to install a VPN on your device. By connecting to a VPN, every time you hop on an open WiFi network, you are essentially creating an encrypted tunnel through which all your traffic is routed.

As such, cyber criminals are unable to see, let alone walk away with your precious data.

It's no doubt that an antimalware software can prove to be beneficial when you're downloading things online. What's really important is to combat your browser against malicious codes that pose a risk to your online privacy.

How To Spot A Rogue WiFi Network?

Keep the following signs in mind so that you can identify a rouge WiFi network whenever you come across one:

1

Misnamed SSID

If you are connecting to a known public wireless network and notice that it’s SSID is somewhat different to what it was earlier, it could very well be a rogue WiFi hotspot.

2

HTTP

Check if the URLs you are visiting have an HTTPS address. If not, it means that your transmitted data can be accessed by hackers.

3

Slow Internet Speed

Are you experiencing a relatively slower connection? Rerouting on the rogue WiFi hotspot’s end might be the main reason for this.

4

Too Easy to Connect

Most legitimate public wireless networks promptly direct users to their terms of service page. If you immediately gain Internet connectivity, you are probably connected to a rogue WiFi access point.

5

Error Messages

If your web browser starts showing error messages or your apps stop functioning, you may be using a rogue WiFi network.

Major Threats Associated With Public Networks

WiFi Pineapple

A Wi-Fi Pineapple is a powerful device capable of executing complex network attacks. Basically, it scans Service Set Identifiers (SSIDs) broadcasted by devices and then rebroadcasts those SSIDs so devices can be tricked into thinking it is a legitimate Wi-Fi access point.

Protecting your device against these types of attacks can be very challenging, unless you equip yourself with a reliable VPN – it will safeguard all your communications from end-to-end using top-of-the-line encryption.

Man In The Middle Attack

Man-in-the-Middle attacks are one of the biggest risks of using public wireless networks. To put it simply, it involves cybercriminals discreetly positioning themselves between the victim and the requested website.

Once they have managed to gain control over the connection, attackers have the ability to intercept and alter all your communications and/or even divert your credit card or debit card transactions into their own accounts.

Rogue WiFi Hotspots

Whenever you connect to a public Wi-Fi at a coffee shop or restaurant, make sure to ask the network’s owner about the correct name. Besides, you would not want to connect to a rogue Wi-Fi hotspot set up by a mischievous hacker.

These networks are designed to mimic legitimate hotspots provided by nearby businesses and once someone connects to them, the bad guys are able to steal sensitive information and even redirect them to an infected website.

Computer Worms

Worms are similar to their virus counterparts in many ways, but they differ in one main aspect. Unlike viruses, which need to be attached to a program, worms can spread on your device without you having to download an infected file.

Therefore, if the public Wi-Fi network you are connected to lacks appropriate security safeguards, you are at the risk of a devastating infection that could not only compromise your personal information but also destroy your device.

Packet Sniffing

Since most public Wi-Fi networks are open and do not offer any encryption whatsoever, it does not take much of an effort for cybercriminals to monitor all the Internet traffic being transmitted to and from your device.

By using a packet sniffer, which are programs that capture and log data transfers over a network, attackers can read all unencrypted communications and capture sensitive information like your credit card details.

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