Who doesn’t love coffee shop Wi-Fi? We have all used those free Wi-Fi networks on airports, shopping malls, libraries and restaurants, at least once in our lifetime. While many people prefer a public Wi-Fi connection because it is ‘free’, others have to use it during urgent situations. But does being ‘public’ and ‘free’ guarantee that it’s safe too? Read this article to find why public Wi-Fi services are vulnerable and how you can maintain online privacy while surfing the web via these access points.
Public Wi-Fi connections are weak!
They have thousands of active users all the time. But all users are not actively browsing, surfing, torrenting, studying or working: many are just there to monitor the online behavior and copy the digital fingerprints of other active users, especially those who access sensitive information and payment gateways via these networks. Any attacker, intruder, advertiser or administrator can penetrate a public network and sniff sensitive data packets users exchange on the Wi-Fi. Here is how you can prevent cyber threats arising from free Wi-Fi services and maintain maximum security:
1. Verify Wi-Fi Credentials
Users notice different Wi-Fi networks with identical names, but they are not identical: they have a slightly different SSID, which are meant to trap innocent users and steal their digital identities. In an evil twin attack, hackers create a dummy Wi-Fi access point and when users connect to that particular server, they end up leaking their sensitive information. To protect yourself on public Wi-Fi, firstly verify the login credentials. Reputable venues usually display their login credentials either in their welcome books or on noticeboards. So, check the login information and connect only to an access point which has an exact SSID match.
2. Activate your VPN
VPNs are cybersecurity tools that mask their users’ IP Addresses and hide their locations. The mechanism starts with the establishment of a secure connection on an existing conventional network. With an active VPN, all internet traffic your device exchanges with the server passes through a secure tunnel, which means no middlemen, intruders, internet service providers or attackers can monitor your online activity. Do not compromise on online privacy by using free services that would promise a fast VPN server only. Check other factors like the location of its headquarters, price, simultaneous connections, ad-blocking features, kill switches and most importantly its encryption standards.
3. Use an Antivirus Program
An antivirus will protect your passwords, and provide device-level safety against adware and ransomware. Choose an antivirus program that diagnoses the network connection for data leaks, generates app reports and does not show ads. If you connect to public networks to save bandwidth while torrenting and streaming, we will suggest you rely on a secure service with a fast VPN server rather than a public Wi-Fi because the former usually offers unlimited bandwidth for a seamless online experience. Otherwise, choose an antivirus that does not slow down with a VPN running in the background or it would crash and fail at protecting you.
4. Avoid Installing Apps
You’ll often see app advertisements on a public network. Most of these apps will guarantee faster connections and free VPN protection, but these are the biggest culprits that can introduce malware (especially ransomware) to your devices and lock you out of your data files. Do not install ANY apps on your device while connected to a public WiFi, especially from third-party stores because they are least trustworthy and feature any apps that pay them money.
5. Do not Exchange Banking Credentials
Even if you have a strong antivirus program, do not access your banking portals on public Wi-Fi, especially if you are connected to a free VPN service or can’t establish a VPN connection at all. Intruders scan the traffic and keep a close eye on user IDs and passwords, and once they receive a hint that someone has visited a banking or financial website, they make a supreme effort and dedicate spyware to decrypt the data. This can be extremely dangerous because a cyberattacker can misuse your banking information to:
- Cause you serious financial damage
- Register for a credit service
- Fund serious crimes like terrorist activities
- Hack the bank accounts of your contacts
The results of identity thefts and data losses can be far-reaching. Cybercriminals often do not only want to breach your confidentiality because they like doing so, but they can also use such information to blackmail you, cyberstalk or bully you; they can choose to expose your information on open platforms or sell it on the dark web. So, the safety of your device and privacy of your data is your fundamental responsibility when you deliberately choose to surf through a public Wi-Fi. Use suggested tools and keep yourself protected against cyberthreats which are yet to grow exponentially. Not only your responsibility, but online privacy is your fundamental digital right; take back the control and don’t let some bounty hunters influence your online activity.