Public Wi-Fi is everywhere – parks, coffeeshops, airports, hotels, public transit, libraries, and restaurants. We have also heard time and time again that using public Wi–Fi makes us susceptible to hacking,….but we still use it! Can’t help it – we need the internet everywhere we go! So what about Public Wi-Fi makes it easy for hackers t get to us? How unsafely are we acting anyway, and what are we risking?
Public WiFi makes those using or trying to use it it susceptible to attack in two main ways.
First, the encryption protocols that wireless networks use could be based on older standards referred to as WEP – wireless encryption protocol. The newer standard that should be in place is WPA – Wi-Fi protected access. While the newer encryption protocol has its own risks, the latest version should be being used. Basically, having updated encryption is important because it allows you and only you to see and access your data.
Second, you can be unintentionally choosing a “rogue” Wi-Fi hotspot. This a case where a cyber attacker creates a fake hotspot to perform man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. You join this network and become a victim where the cyber attacker intercepts communications without you being aware. This allows cyber thievery as it allows the attacker to see your online traffic, and thus read, insert, and modify the messages and data of the website servers you are visiting. So what can you look out for?
- Beware of Wi-Fis names “Free Wi–Fi.” This is their easy bait!
- If you are in a coffee shop and your device reads that you are connected to your “home network,” this could mean that someone has intercepted your network.
- Check that your website address begins with “https.” If it reads “http,” this could mean a MITM attack is occurring.
As always, a good general rule of thumb is to keep your software updated, and wait to access sensitive data activities, such as banking transactions, until you are in a secure, private environment. If you find that you need to access data because you are on-the-go, then as an added security measure, you can enable a two-factor authentication (2FA) when for the services that offer it. This means that even if an attacker gains access to your password, they still will not be able to access your accounts. Finally, when you are done with your online task in the public environment, “log out.”
Travel and function safe!