Things to Be Aware of When Connecting to a Public Wi-Fi

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Picture this. It’s a bright Saturday morning and you’re having a latte at your favorite coffee shop. While at it, you decide to pull out your laptop to catch up on a few tasks that you were unable to get done during the week.  So you get connected to the free public Wi-Fi, get your ducks in a row and begin surfing the internet. Sound familiar?

A little too familiar if you ask me. Thing is, this is a typical scenario for most of us. Whether it’s at the airport, the coffee shop or at a restaurant we just can’t seem to resist the temptation to connect to that all so elusive free Wi-Fi hotspot. However, do you know that you might be opening yourself up to a ton of risks by so doing?

Let’s face it! Public Wi-Fi isn’t always as safe as we’d like to imagine. Without the right protection, your personal information could easily become public.

What is public Wi-Fi?

Public Wi-Fi is a hotspot often found in public areas like malls, airports, coffee shops and hotels and restaurants. These hotspots are so common and widespread that most folks hardly ever think about the consequences of connecting to them. And while it sounds totally harmless to log on and do a quick check on your social media or send out a few emails, it could be a shot in the dark.

What you need know about public Wi-Fi connections

By itself, a public Wi-Fi is not bad at all. However, there are a ton of risks that go along with using it, especially if there’s a lax in security protocols. Here are some of the risks you could be exposing yourself to.

Malware distribution

Thanks to software vulnerabilities, attackers can easily inject malware onto your computer without your noticing it. There are many emerging ways which scammers use to distribute malware. Cybercriminals use links that, once clicked by unsuspecting users, lead to compromised websites that harbor the malware. Others are injected in the form of an email attachment that contain the malware often hidden with a .zip file.

The actual malware burden may differ from version to version but trust me, irrespective of what it actually does, it will be nasty and definitely not something you want to have in your computer

Man-in-the-middle attacks

Man-in-the-middle attack is probably one of the most common threats associated with public Wi-Fi. It is a form of spying where your computer connects to the hotspot to send data from one point to another and due to vulnerabilities, an attacker gets in between the transmissions and accesses whatever it is you are sending. Meaning that private is no longer so private after all.

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Malicious hotspots

Malicious hotspots? Yes. They exist. These rogue access points often trick users into connecting to what they consider to be a legitimate network only to find out later that it’s a rogue hotspot set up by hackers and cyber attackers so that they can view your sensitive data.

Unencrypted networks

Encryption is an essential and valuable tool when it comes to keeping your private information secure. It involves mixing the information you are sending over the internet using a secret code so that it’s not readable to anyone else but the recipient. Most public Wi-Fi hotspots are generally unencrypted. Scammers see the unencrypted pages you are visiting and what you are typing into unencrypted web forms. So if you are connected to your banks website, criminals would know it although they wouldn’t know what exactly you are doing

Sniffing and snooping

Wi-Fi sniffing and snooping means just that – sniffing and snooping. Hackers can acquire software kits and devices to help them eavesdrop on Wi-Fi signals and access practically everything you’re doing online from filling out information on visitor web pages to even hijacking your online accounts!

How to stay safe on public Wi-Fi

The best way to keep your personal information safe while using public Wi-Fi is to use a virtual private network (VPN) when surfing on your smartphone, PC, tablet or Mac. Here are a few additional tips to help protect your information.

Dos

  • Ensure you log out of accounts once you’re done using them.
  • Disable file sharing.
  • Use https when visiting sites.
  • Use a VPN to make your connections private (here is a great provider).

Don’ts

  • Leave your Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on when not in use
  • Log onto networks that don’t have security protocols
  • Allow your Wi-Fi to auto connect to networks
  • Long into accounts using information sensitive apps. Instead, go to the website and verify that it uses https before you log in
  • Access websites that hold your sensitive information such as healthcare and financial accounts

 Verdict

If you are a regular user of public Wi-Fi connections, consider investing in a Virtual Private Network (VPN). It is a surefire way to protect your privacy online.

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