Did you know that there is a cyberattack every 39 seconds? You are more likely to be a victim if you are lax about your digital security. This includes being careless about using public Wi-Fi.
Connecting to free, public Wi-Fi is second nature to most people. It seems like a splendid idea when you’re visiting your favorite coffee shop, waiting on your flight at the airport, or waiting in line at the bank. It makes more sense to connect to the convenient public network than spend money on mobile data.
However, while it’s certainly convenient, especially when you must work on the go, it’s not necessarily safe. One of the biggest reasons is the lack of encryption. One analysis found that 24.7% of hotspots are not even encrypted. They are frequently targeted by hackers as a result. Therefore, public Wi-Fi exposes you to unnecessary risks, data breaches, and cyberattacks. It makes you vulnerable and exposes your sensitive data to all the devices connected to the same network.
If you want to stay safe, you must take precautions. Learn what you can do to ensure the utmost security even on networks as unsafe as public Wi-Fi.
Understand the risks
You can’t protect your data unless you know what you’re protecting it from. Therefore, you first need to learn the risks of free public Wi-Fi.
Some of the most common threats you’ll encounter include:
- Session hijacking – taking over your session and disguising as an authorized user.
- Malware distribution – spreading malicious files or tracking software.
- Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) – using a device to overwhelm a server/service/network.
- Eavesdropping/Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack – monitoring your connection and collecting data.
- Theft of sensitive data.
Although it doesn’t always seem like it, cyberattacks are becoming more common. It’s expected that cybercrime damages will reach $10.3 trillion annually by 2025, and big corporations and celebrities are not the only targets.
The average person might not give much thought to their online safety as they do not believe in having anything valuable. Therefore, you’ll want to think twice before engaging in unsafe behaviors like connecting to public Wi-Fi.
Verify your Wi-Fi connection
The first, most important thing you’ll need to do to stay safe while using free public Wi-Fi is to check whether the network is verified. Setting up fake networks that seem eerily like genuine ones (creating a network called $tarbucks instead of Starbucks, for example) is the easiest way to steal data.
Therefore, verify the connection before you log on to public Wi-Fi. See whether the network’s name is displayed somewhere or check the name with the staff of the cafe/bank/airport/etc. If not, you might accidentally connect to an evil twin controlled by potentially malicious individuals.
Encrypt your information
The best thing you could do when you have no other choice than to connect to a public Wi-Fi is to use a Virtual Private Network to encrypt your information.
A VPN for PC works by effectively creating a tunnel between your device and the network. It creates a secure, private connection and scrambles all your data, making it unreadable to any eavesdropper. It even hides your device activity from your internet service provider (ISP), making you virtually invisible as you browse the net.
Avoid logging into sensitive accounts
Even if the network is verified, it’s still vulnerable, especially if it doesn’t require a password. It takes a simple program to intercept your connection and start monitoring your activity. Anyone who gets in between you and the network can gain insight into the passwords you type in and the sensitive information you use.
You’ll want to avoid logging into sensitive accounts, including social media, email, bank, and work accounts. You don’t want to use public Wi-Fi for anything other than catching up on the news or watching your favorite YouTube channel.
Use a firewall and antivirus, no exceptions
Using a firewall and antivirus software is necessary, whether you’re using public or home Wi-Fi. An antivirus program for PC protects your device from malware, while a firewall prevents unauthorized access to your network.
Windows computers will usually come with pre-installed firewall and antivirus software, so be sure to enable them. If you’re using other devices with other operating systems, you’ll need to check.
Furthermore, you’ll always want to update your software to the latest version. New versions of antivirus will contain new malware definitions that keep you protected, while other software updates will commonly contain security patches.
“Forget” the network after you log out
Finally, you’ll always want to click “forget network” after you’re done using free public Wi-Fi. Without doing so, your device will automatically connect to the same network any time you’re in its vicinity and your Wi-Fi is on. You’ll be exposing yourself to cybersecurity risks without even knowing it.
Even if you click on the “forget network” on your device, it will remain visible when you turn your Wi-Fi on, and you can still join it in the future. It will simply prevent your device from automatically connecting to it.
Connecting to free, public Wi-Fi is always risky. You never know who’s on the same network and who can intercept your connection. As a rule of thumb, it’s in your best interest to avoid it altogether.
However, if you have no choice but to join public Wi-Fi, take precautions that will help keep your data secure.