There may come a time when it’s inevitable to connect to a public WiFi; so, it’s better to understand all the risks beforehand.
Free WiFi is a very tempting trap. It’s extremely convenient to connect to the internet without incurring any charges, but nothing comes without a price. Free WiFi comes at the price of privacy and the major risk of revealing all your passwords to a stranger on the side.
All of this is possible due to a major flaw in the WPA2 encryption, the standard that secures all WiFi networks, that risks the possibility that anyone can access the information of users connected to the same WiFi network. This information includes all the sensitive, supposed to be, encrypted information as well. Today’s WiFi standards are very flimsy when it comes to security and pose a great threat to the security of WiFi users.
But how do hackers operate with free WiFi?
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Hackers very cleverly position themselves between the user and the connection point, making all the data to go through them instead of going straight to the actual hotspot. Every bit of information accessed by the user is accessible by the hacker as well. If a user makes an online payment with their credit card, the hacker will have access to all that information. So, they can just kiss all their balance good bye. Likewise, if someone accesses their Facebook account, the hacker can view their password as well.
In short, any chunk of information accessed by the user is accessible by the hacker too.
A lot of people still don’t completely understand the severity of these threats posed by the use of public WiFi. Whenever someone accesses anything on a public WiFi, they should be ready to accept the fact that it is as good as gone.
This arises a very simple question: Is it worth it?
The very simple answer is NO. Unless it is extremely necessary to use a public WiFi, it’s better to pretend that it doesn’t exist. And for the unavoidable situations where it is just impossible to not use a public WiFi, here’s a few things to keep in mind:
- Do not access any personal information, no matter what. The moment a user accesses their personal information it is also readily available to the hacker.
- Always connect using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN helps to create a safe link over the internet to another network. VPNs can be used to access regionally restricted websites, shield browsing activity from public WiFi prying eyes and more.
- Use SSL connections if a VPN isn’t available. It adds an another layer of encryption. When browsing make sure that ‘Always use HTTPS’ is enabled for the websites.
- An unlimited data plan is a much better investment than risking to lose all the data.
- Make sure file sharing is turned off on the device being used.
Admittedly, there may come a time when the last option is to connect to an insecure free public network; so, it is better to be safe than sorry. All the preventive measures are very easy and inexpensive; it’s just a matter of awareness. There’s also a show on netflix by the name Control Z which is all about a hacker controlling high school students using their personal phone data.