Internet users love easy-to-access public WiFi but tend to be unaware of the security risks it comes with
Observing how technology has advanced, it’s amazing to see how things like WiFi have stitched themselves into the fabric of our day-to-day. Take the year 2016, for example. The UN General Assembly passed a non-binding resolution declaring that internet access is a human right. Since the internet—and in this regard, WiFi—is a double-edged sword as a tool for powerful, free-flowing information exchange, there exists for the UN an emphasis on “the promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet.”
The quality of access, of course, is an entirely different subject. And if we factor in the mentioned “enjoyment of human rights,” we know the right to privacy and security is something that’s threatened every day. Did you know that connecting to an open network such as public WiFi poses its own set of security risks? Are you aware that free public WiFi is considered a playground for hackers?
As we celebrate the ways WiFi has kept people connected, on World WiFi Day, it’s also worth brushing up on safe practices. When using free public WiFi, where data breaches are overlooked but ever-present, keep the following things in mind.
Be wary of all WiFi links, as they are inherently insecure.
As a general rule, approach each open network with caution. Since these hotspots do not require any form of authentication to get connected, it becomes a potential hot zone for interference.
“The biggest threat to free Wi-Fi security is the ability for the hacker to position himself between you and the connection point,” explains cybersecurity company Kaspersky. “So instead of talking directly with the hotspot, you're sending your information to the hacker, who then relays it on.”
Anyone with the intent to collect your data without your consent, distribute malware, and more can thrive in this space.
Verify the legitimacy of public WiFi links with their provider.
Out at the mall, market, hotel, or restaurant? Double-check the name and link with someone at a help desk or concierge to ensure the connection you’re about to access is legitimate.
In some cases of cyberattacks via public WiFi, attackers can set up bogus WiFi links that mirror the look and function of a legitimate open network. This is called the “evil twin” hack. Connecting to this evil twin network enables hackers to steal your data. Again, they can even con you into downloading malware.
Avoid using public WiFi networks when accessing confidential information.
Activities that are absolute no-no’s when connected to public WiFi? Online banking, accessing work files, online shopping, and logging into your social media.
On this, identity and security solutions company GlobalSign enumerates more ways to stay secure: “Always turn off automatic connection; always use two-factor authentication; always check ‘forget network’ after using public WiFi.”
If you absolutely must access your bank online, access your work files, or do any more of the above-mentioned while out in public, the safest option is to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) app, which offers encryption on your personal information, or simply use your mobile data.