What are the security risks involved in using public WiFi networks


If you are thinking you can take advantage of some free WiFi that is available in your surroundings, wait for a moment before connecting to it. Some hackers intentionally provide free WiFi connectivity so that they can steal the information from you. If you don't know the public WiFi security risks, there is a very high chance that your personal identity can be compromised. In this article, I will talk about the risks of using public WiFi and the various approaches to deal with it.

Introduction

Over a period of time, the traffic on WiFi will far exceed the traffic on cellular networks. So, WiFi will be playing a pivotal function in our day to day life. By keeping its prominence in mind, free WiFi services are now provided at different busy locations like railway stations, hotels, book stores, supermarkets, airports, etc. Though such free internet comes handy to the working professionals and general public, there is another side associated with it as hackers can easily see what is being transferred on such networks because almost all open WiFi networks don't use any encryption techniques while transferring data. Though there are some security dangers associated with such networks, fortunately there are also some safeguards to protect you from those unsecured WiFi risks. So, it is utmost important to learn how to protect yourself from public WiFi security issues so that your important business as well as personal information remains safe.

Public WiFi security risks

  • The no authentication feature of open WiFi networks that most people very much fond of, is equally exciting to hackers also. It leaves a good opportunity for hackers to have an easy access to loosely secured devices on the network. The biggest threat of an open WiFi network is that the hacker can sit in between the end user and the hotspot and can sniff the data communicated over the network.

  • When working on the open network, if the end user is not alert enough, the hacker can see every piece of information that is being sent by the user like emails, credit or debit card information and even some business as well as personal information. With such a crucial information at his hand, the hacker can later impersonate himself as you and can cause enough harm to you with that information. It is due to these public WiFi dangers, some technocrats suggest to abandon it altogether.

  • Hackers see unsecured connection as an opportunity to introduce malware into your device. Some hackers can even introduce malware into the hotspot itself. The hotspot can generate a pop-up window to appear in your connected device and can ask you to update some software, which when clicked, installs the unintended malware into the system. With that malware in your system, the hackers can do whatever they intend.

  • The public hotspot that you connect, could itself be a malicious one as hackers can cleverly install an "evil twin" hotspot, which will have the same name as that of a legitimate hotspot. If a user connects to the evil twin, he will fall in the trap created by the hacker.

  • Sometimes, hackers use the method of "Sidjacking", which is nothing but stealing usernames and passwords of different varieties of websites like Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, etc. by using a packet sniffer, a program that can interpret the data passing over an unsecured network. Hackers can interpret how people reuse their passwords and they try to use similar passwords thus obtained so as to log into your corporate network or into your banking portals.

How to stay safe on public WiFi networks

  • As a universal rule, it is better not to connect to any hotspot named "Free WiFi". Such hotspots, even if they are not malicious, will ask you to sign in for something that you are not by any means interested. They may compel you to sign in as you are using their free internet services. After that, they will send various advertisement notifications to your email id regularly. Similarly, if you find some public service hotspots like those located at airports, railway stations, coffee shops, etc., try to find the exact name of the hotspot by asking the staff as there could be some malicious hotspots with similar names.

  • Never ever try to do online transactions by giving credit or debit card information or by visiting banking or shopping websites when you are in an open network. Always try to update your antivirus software and make sure that your firewall is enabled properly so as to have some level of protection against public WiFi security risks.

  • Until you browse for some information in the open network, there won't arise any issues. But if you try to access your emails, make sure that you are connected securely via HTTPS. HTTPS versions of the websites are somewhat secured when compared to HTTP versions. It is always good to restrain the activities to something that do not require any authenticated information like usernames and passwords. You have to keep in your mind that most of the smartphone mailing apps do auto logins and can leak your authentication credentials. So, your smartphones and tablets are more prone to risk when compared to your laptops. Hence, you have to be extremely cautious on how to stay secure on public WiFi while using your smart gadgets as most of these devices won't have the option of disabling the auto logins.

  • Keep your device's WiFi OFF when you are not using the internet as your device can connect to a known hotspot automatically and can transfer data through some Apps without your knowledge. Keeping it OFF will also give enhanced battery backup. Always try to clean up the used hotspot names that are no longer required so that unintended auto connection can be avoided.

  • If you are using your PC in a risky environment, make sure that sharing of files and folders is turned off in your PC's network sharing center so that hackers can't have access to your files and directories.

  • If possible it is better to install some commercial Virtual Private Network(VPN) software into your system by paying a small premium. If you are a working professional, you can install your organisation's VPN client software into your system. A VPN software encrypts the data that is moving into or out of the end user's device. Generally, hackers will attack easy targets rather than trying to interpret the complex encrypted data. Hence, VPN technology can block attackers from interpreting the data that is moving in and out of your system.

Conclusion

Go for free open WiFi only when no other alternative options are available. Sometimes, people know about the potential threats of using public WiFi, but still they blindly perform different activities on the network as if nothing will happen. They will realize the consequences only when something bad happens to them and then only they will start to think about the safety. So, be aware of the public WiFi security risks and always make sure that the convenience of using easy internet doesn't backfire you. Always enable two-factor or multi-factor authentication whenever possible and always try to log out when you finished your work. Immediately disconnect from the network if you find some suspicious activity on the network. If you have 3G or 4G data in your smartphone always try to use that instead of using open WiFi.


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Comments

Author: Venkiteswaran07 Feb 2017 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 3

A very relevant article in these days when there are more public WiFi available.
Usually there is a temptation of curiosity to search for free WiFi when we are outside our home and on travel.
It is an interesting time pass to try and hook on some free WiFi. Such free WiFi are available due to the ignorance of some individual WiFi users or as marketing trick by some providers.
But there is also a chance of this used as a bait by hackers and criminal elements.
So one should always keep in mind that 'nothing comes free' as such. If something is available free, then definitely some strings and liabilities also come attached to them.

The tips of precautions given in the article are important basics and one has to grow more prudent, cautious and alert by updating oneself constantly on developments.

Author: umesh01 May 2017 Member Level: Gold   Points : 3

The article is very useful in understanding the risks of free public Wi-Fi networks and a must read for those who are using such networks recklessly.

Many times, when we use such networks, we should confine to ordinary surfing like seeing news or general information. In case we require to do some bank related or credit card related job we must disconnect from public Wi-Fi and use our own data instead. Prevention is better than cure in such cases.



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