Public Wi-Fi is accessible in public places such as in coffee shops, airports, malls, and hotels — it lets you access the Internet for free. These “Wi-Fi hotspots” have become so prevalent and common that individuals habitually connect to them without making any considerations.
Although it may seem harmless to log in and check you’re Instagram or Twitter account or read some news articles, most of our day-to-day online activity requires you to input a password. And it could be very risky to read an e-mail or to check your bank balances on public Wi-Fi.
Risks of using Wi-Fi hotspots
The danger with public Wi-Fi is that there are several risks involved with these networks. While business owners may believe they are offering a valuable service to their clients, chances are the security on this public Wi-Fi is sloppy or non-existent.
• Man-in-the-Middle attacks
The most common dangers of public Wi-Fi are referred to as a Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attack. Basically, a MitM attack is a kind of eavesdropping.
When a PC makes a connection to the web, data is transmitted from the PC to a website, and weaknesses can enable 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 data sent in-between your device and the wireless router are in the form of a “secret code,” so that it cannot be read by anyone who does not have the key to decipher the code.
Most routers leave the manufacture’s premises when the encryption is switched off, and it must be switched on once the network is established.
Once the IT expert sets up the Wi-Fi, the chances are high that encryption has been enabled. But, there is no sure way to confirm if the encryption is on.
• Malware distribution
Due to software vulnerabilities, there are means through which cybercriminals can sneak malware into your PC without your knowledge. A software vulnerability refers to a security gap or weakness present in a software program or operating system.
Hackers can take advantage of this weakness by writing code to target a specific vulnerability, and then inject the malicious software into your computer.
• Snooping and sniffing
Wi-Fi snooping and sniffing is eavesdropping on wifi networks. Online attackers make use of specialized software gear and even equipment to assist them with snooping on Wi-Fi signals.
This technique can allow the attackers to access everything that you are doing online — from viewing whole web pages you have visited including any information you may have input while visiting those web pages to being able to capture your login particulars, and even steal from your online bank accounts.
• Rogue Wi-Fi hotspots
With the “rogue access points,” victims are tricked into connecting to what they think is a legitimate Wi-Fi hotspot because the name sounds trustworthy. Maybe you are residing at the Goodlyfe hotel and would like to connect to the hotel’s hotspot.
You might think you have selected the correct one when you click on “Goodlyfe Hotel,” but you have not. Instead, you have just connected to a malicious hotspot established by online criminals who want to steal your sensitive data.
• Malicious attacks via ad hocs
Ad hocs are P2P networks which connect two devices directly. When a remote user connects to a public wifi hotspot, their computer is expected to discover new networks, making it possible for hackers to connect directly to them.
• Exposure to worm attacks
When using public wifi hotspots, you are exposed to worms’ attacks just like viruses, with one main difference. Viruses require a program to attack successfully and bring down a system, while worms can destroy systems by themselves.
When connected to a public Wi-Fi, you run the risk of a worm traveling from another device that’s connected to the network to your computer.
• Stealing your bandwidth
Users of unsecured wifi networks may rest contentedly in the mistaken belief that they are safe from the intentions of malicious attackers. However, anyone who is aware of an unsecured private or corporate Wi-Fi exists and is close enough to connect may connect on the hotspot to steal bandwidth.
And as more unauthorized visitors sign-ins they could potentially overload the system by exceeding bandwidth limitations or the capabilities of network hardware, in the form of DoS attack.
If you must use an unsecured, free, public wifi hotspot, it is recommended to use a VPN. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) service (such as PIA) or application is the core of your defense against unsecured wifi risks.
A VPN creates strong encryption on all information moving to and from your computer during each session – so even if a hacker were to intercept your connection, they would find it difficult to decrypt any data they see, and probably discard and go after unprotected users who are easy to attack.