Are Public Wi-Fis Really Safe?
The first thing to notice is that the number of people using public Wi-Fi is enormous. You could almost say that everybody does it. There are two obvious reasons why this is so. Public Wi-Fi is everywhere, and it’s free.
You don’t have to look far to find access to public Wi-Fi. Go into any shopping mall, and you’ll find shops which freely advertise such a service. Buy a coffee and enjoy our free Wi-Fi. What’s not to like about that? While you’re waiting for a plane at an airport, it’s easy to find access to this service. So because it’s everywhere and because it’s free, it’s extremely popular.
But Is It Safe?
In a word, no. If you are an Internet security company which is out to sell you their software to protect your Internet activity, you’ll almost certainly hear the answer no. They say it’s not safe. So, should you continue using it?
We hear everyday stories about fraud perpetuated via the Internet. People have their accounts hacked. Governments have their accounts hacked. Now if these people and institutions have a firewall in place and still have their website invaded, how much easier is it for people with criminal intent to obtain access to your information if you are on a public Wi-Fi network?
The answer is it’s very easy.
What Do People Do When They Use Public Wi-Fi?
Surveys tell us that about 20% of people access financial information. Almost 60% log into their social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. About 40% of people share photos or videos, and about 60% of people check out their e-mail account.
Now think about that for a moment. We’ve got banking information, social media, photos and personal e-mails. What could be more important or more private than each of those matters?
Okay, social media is pretty public most of the time – that’s the nature of the beast. But people send private messages on Facebook. They are the “for your eyes only” type messages. Mind you, with the correct password. Such messages can be hacked.
But financial transactions and private photos are seriously private. That sort of information in the hands of criminals can do you serious damage. Your savings could be stolen. A compromising photo could be leaked. You do not want those things to happen to you. Yet, using public Wi-Fi leaves you wide open to such abuse.
How Do Cyber Criminals Work?
When you use a public Wi-Fi or any other type of unsecured Wi-Fi, you are putting your activity and your content at serious risk. This is how a cybercriminal works.
You are on a particular network. If a cybercriminal is on the same public Wi-Fi network, it doesn’t take very much for the crook to listen in to your conversations. This article is not going to teach you how to do what cyber-criminals do. But suffice to say, a few simple clicks will block the cybercriminal’s access to you and your activity.
The technical term for the criminal’s success is a MitM known as a Man-in-the-Middle attack. With access to a public Wi-Fi network, the criminal can scan the router involved in your activity and look for weaknesses in the signal. This could be a poor password or because the router itself does not have good security.
TIP: Make your passwords complex using a mix of letters and numbers and don’t leave them in a place which is easy to find. If your passwords are online and the hacker is into your system, say goodbye to your credit card details and whatever else.
Getting back to the router, the piece of equipment used in the public Wi-Fi network, what do you know about this equipment? Answer: probably nothing.
So the hacker can gain entry and become the man in the middle between you and your bank account, email account, or whatever. This is a serious breach of your privacy; it’s illegal but, as we all know, it happens and it happens all the time.
What Can You Do?
Well, the first and most obvious answer is don’t use public Wi-Fi networks. Sure, that’s easy to say but how then can you conduct business, talk to your friends and find out what’s happening in the world? You can’t unless you have a private Wi-Fi system which, in a shopping center or airport, you don’t.
But there is an alternative solution. It’s called a VPN which stands for Virtual Private Network. A VPN overrides a public network. If you use a VPN when on a public Wi-Fi network, any information you send or receive is restricted. That means your data is protected. It can be a small price to pay for a serious saving of your records and savings. And don’t forget the peace of mind you gain as well.
There are many VPNs which you can consider. Yes, it costs to acquire a VPN but what are the risks if you don’t? It would take a page to list them. And remember if you have a VPN for your home Wi-Fi, you can roll it over for when you’re away from home and start using a public network. Take your private VPN with you.
It’s believed that up to 60% of Americans don’t use a VPN when they access a public Wi-Fi. That’s probably another reason why cyber-criminals are licking their lips right now.
What Else Can I Do to Stay Safe Online?
When you have sensitive data to send or receive, don’t use public Wi-Fi. It’s great to send unimportant photos or messages on a free and public Wi-Fi network but keep your important stuff for when you have some protection.
Not all public Wi-Fi systems are the same. Generally speaking those in a coffee shop are more secure than those in a giant space such as an airport.
Your computer – Windows or Mac – will have a file sharing option. When you’re on a public Wi-Fi network, turn off that option.
If you’re not using it, lose it. This is great advice regardless of your device be it a phone, tablet or computer. Once you’ve finished using your access to a public Wi-Fi network, switch off the access. Some people are lazy and just leave it there meaning a hacker has more time to hack. Don’t give them the opportunity.
Does your computer have some anti-virus protection installed, and if not, why not? Some hackers, patrolling the users of public Wi-Fi networks, are not interested in stealing your money so much as causing you grief. A virus in your machine can cause major problems. Block them with something like Malwarebytes. There are many security packages available and again, like a VPN, think carefully about having them installed. A stitch in time saves nine and prevention is better than cure are two sayings which are definitely relevant to you and your lifestyle.
There are other things you can do as well. UBlock Origin and Disconnect are software programs which take your safety to a new level. Anti-virus software protects you from hackers, but if you want to stop ads and in fact block anything, those two programs give you control especially when you’re on a free and public Wi-Fi network.
Of course, the safest option is to not use a public Wi-Fi network at all. That may be a bit extreme, but apart from the suggested steps above, you could take the safest option which is to use your own Wi-Fi. Okay, how does that work in an airport and you’re miles from home?
You can hook up to your wireless carrier’s network via your phone and use their system. Talking to your ISP (Internet Service Provider) would be a good first step. Explain your concern about using a public Wi-Fi network and consider their advice.
Here’s a good maxim. If it’s free and available to everyone, then it’s not secure.
Now that’s a telling fact. Public Wi-Fi is free and available to anyone almost anywhere. Therefore, ipso facto (Latin meaning “by the fact itself”) public Wi-Fi is not secure. And of course, knowledge is power.
If you didn’t already know that fact, you do now. Now you can do something about it. Just how much you do depends on your inclination, budget, and desire to be secure online.
This article tells you how cyber-criminals or sniffers can invade your privacy, and what you can do to thwart them. Even simple steps like turning off your access when not using Wi-Fi can possibly save you from financial strife.
Using various forms of security software is a definite option as is taking your home private Wi-Fi and rolling it over into the public network. These are not costly and will seriously improve your security when using a public and free Wi-Fi network.
Education is the key in this situation. Let the buyer (the internet user on a free public network) beware. Know what can go wrong, and take steps to make your time online safe and secure.