With the ever-growing need for internet connectivity and high volumes of app operational/ update data requirements comes relief in the form of public, free Wi-Fi. Just think about how you can use all that data for nothing – all day, every day.
You would, however, think differently if you knew only half the dangers of free Wi-Fi that you could be exposing yourself to.
This is not a bid to ruin your experience with enjoying all that free internet data for free. It is rather a call for you to protect yourself better online. To better familiarize yourself with what you might be facing, and how to effectively tackle the problem, we have come up with this piece.
The next time you agree to the terms of conditions of the free Wi-Fi network you are connecting to, here are some flaws you might also be exposing yourself to.
One salient feature lacked on public Wi-Fi networks are encryptions. You will observe that you can connect without the need for a passphrase or code of any kind. That lumps you up in the pool of other people – as well as the possible hackers – who have connected to the same network.
Since the network is unencrypted, these hackers will be able to see everything you are doing online. Messages you send, apps and websites you login to (financial platforms, business accounts, social media, etc.), and other sites you surf will all be accessible to these people.
Such access also puts them in a good place to hijack your accounts, impersonate you and do as they like with such accounts.
- Malicious Hotspots
Hackers will sometimes fool unsuspecting users into connecting to malicious networks from which their data can be farmed.
Take, for example, a hotel with the name “Holiday Night Inn.” A hacker may create another Wi-Fi network with the name “Holiday Nite Inn,” “Holiday Night 1nn” (observe that the number ‘1’ was used instead of ‘I’) and so much more.
This can easily fool users into connecting to such a network and from there, being at the mercies of such a hacker.
This type of attack is used to hijack communications between two or more unsuspecting individuals.
A hacker positions themselves in the middle of a communication chain, intercepting the messages from the sender and relaying something else entirely to the receiver. All through the conversation, both ends of the conversation will be unaware of their chat having been intercepted. A hacker can thus manipulate either side into revealing sensitive information that could be used against them.
How You Can Protect Yourself
The best way to protect yourself would be to stop connecting to public Wi-Fi in the first place. Understanding that ‘free’ is not always ‘great’ will make a lot of difference for your online security.
However, we understand that this might be a little harsh on those who need huge amounts of data and rely on public Wi-Fi networks to supply these volumes.
It is thus recommended that you invest in a good Virtual Private Network (VPN). What these pieces of software do is:
- Encapsulate your data at the entry node (where you are ‘entering’ the internet from) so that the data is not accessible to hackers
- Transferring the data through secure servers (middle node) while still keeping it safe within the packet
- Unveiling the data at the target server (exit node) and not before, ensuring no one has access to the data before reaching its destination.
It is also advisable that you choose a VPN which gives you an option to connect to different servers from around the world. That makes it impossible for a hacker to pinpoint your location and direct their attack at you.
Finally, don’t forget speed. If the VPN dampens the connection speed to the extent that you cannot even enjoy the connection, it is not worth wasting your time on.