The Internet has taken over our lives in such a powerful way that sometimes, we can’t seem to thrive if we don’t have access to the web. The human being is a routine animal, and by now, we have grown accustomed to doing specific things online that can affect our daily schedule, mood, performance, and overall productivity if we don’t have access to them.
That is precisely why we tend to take advantage of any opportunity available to connect to the Internet. However, we don’t always prioritize online security, connecting to any Wi-Fi hotspot we encounter on the street instead, be it at a library, coffee shop, airport, etc.
How safe is to use the Internet from public WiFi? Well, to sum up, it isn’t. At all. These networks are more vulnerable to hacking attacks as they can be easily intercepted by these cybercriminals, which have the software and the skills to position themselves between the public network and the user’s device.
That is why there is an increase in the percentage of hacking attacks, identity thefts, lost files, and credit card frauds, among other inconveniences, when the person is using a public Wi-Fi network instead of a private, secure connection.
To the contrary of what some people may believe, private connections and networks aren’t 100% risk-free, either: they are just much less vulnerable than public Wi-Fi hotspots that you may encounter on your average mall or restaurant.
In several cases, the business managers and local administrators think they are doing people a favor by installing a setting up a free, public Wi-Fi for their customers. And they are, provided that they take the correct online and data security practices, establish robust passwords and implement other measures and firewalls.
Dangerous Activities and Consequences of the use of Public Wi-Fi Networks
- Snooping: it consists of strangers having access to the data you share online in these networks. Third parties can get their hands on your digital assets and traffic if your communication is not encrypted.
- Compromised devices: Unfortunately, public Wi-Fi is so insecure that you can get in touch with compromised devices from a security standpoint. Your device can get infected with a virus or other malware forms, including Ransomware.
- Malicious hotspots: Sometimes, the devices connected to the Wi-Fi are not the ones that are compromised. Instead, the hotspot itself may be the one spreading infection around the network.
- Man-in-the-Middle attacks: they happen when a device positions itself between the person using the Wi-Fi network and the hotspot itself, intercepting the shared data and traffic with no one noticing.
- Sidejacking: When the attacker “injects” a packet sniffer or software in a device or network, we talk about sidejacking. It spies traffic and hijacks cookies used to enter online banking or social media accounts, among others.
How to be Safer at a Public Wi-Fi
There are scenarios and situation in which you need to connect to a public Wi-Fi. For example, you have just landed in a foreign country, and you want to let your family and friends know you are OK. Your data plan won’t work and, if you can’t find a phone to make a call, you can connect to the airport’s free hotspot to send a series of messages or use a VoIP service.
However, the practice isn’t recommended, security-wise. If you require to join a public network, take these tips into account:
Be responsible online
It doesn’t take a whole lot of common sense to know that hackers are more dangerous with each passing day. That’s why the less you can share and leave behind when you go to the World Wide Web in a public Wi-Fi, the better.
When you go to a coffee shop or a library, use these networks to catch up with that e-book you want to read, go through the daily news pages, or even check the latest sports-related scores and developments. Try to stay away from online banks and social media accounts.
Use your data plan and avoid Wi-Fi altogether
Hackers, cybercriminals, and even crypto miners trying to use your device to produce cryptocurrency money that you will never see tend to position themselves in public Wi-Fi networks. However, if you use the data plan for your phone, then they will have no access to what you do or share within the mentioned hotspot.
Your phone’s data plan won’t protect you from the things you do or share on the Internet, though. As long as you have that in mind, you won’t necessarily have to add another risk to your online security by connecting to a public hotspot.
Connect to the Internet through an Ethernet cable
Hackers like to hide in public Wi-Fi networks by taking advantage of vulnerabilities in the signal. From that position, they can inflict irreparable damage on naïve people that connect on these hotspots without a clue of what can happen if they are unprotected.
However, if you connect directly to the router, you would be bypassing most of the dangers of the wireless signal and the possible hackers lurking on it. The only way to directly connect your device to the router is with an Ethernet cable. You will sacrifice some comfort and portability, but the things you will gain are much more prominent.
Use the HTTPS protocol whenever possible
The HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is the key that lets us open and enjoys websites on the Internet. However, it is highly insecure and unreliable, as the things you do or share within the page will not be encrypted and can be visible to external threats and hazardous agents.
The Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS,) in turn, will encrypt the communications and requests you send to that particular page. It is far safer than the HTTPS, and more useful for those users than prioritize online and data privacy.
A reliable VPN provider
If you want to feel free and safe while using a public Wi-Fi network, the best thing you can do is hire the services of a VPN provider. Virtual Private Networks (VPN) are online tools for encryption and safe sharing of data through the web.
The VPN technology comes in the form of apps or clients provided by online security companies, in most cases. By using protocols such as OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, SSTP, IKEv2, or PPTP, a VPN company will hide your IP address (which is the main element that hackers can use to track you online) and shared content thanks to its ability to build a virtual tunnel to protect that information.
You will effectively avoid hackers, cybercriminals, crypto miners, governmental surveillance agencies, spies and snoopers, online advertising companies, and even your Internet Service Provider (ISP) from collecting and using logs of your activity.
Since the VPN app will mask your IP and lend you a new, temporary one from the location you choose, you will be able to browse the web anonymously and privately, providing a safer experience while using a public Wi-Fi.
You can get secure encryption, fast browsing and streaming speeds, as well as a broad server network provided you select a reliable, trustworthy VPN provider. SurfShark fulfills all the required criteria.
In conclusion, public Wi-Fi networks may be convenient from several angles. However, they are highly insecure, and they host a myriad of hackers, malware, and other threats that can harm your online safety.