Everyone loves WiFi, and is familiar with the convenience it brings. In simple terms, WiFi is a technology that allows smartphones, computers, and other devices to communicate with each other or connect to the Internet wirelessly.
WiFi can be found at home, which is typically called a "closed network", or in public locations; these are often unsecured and known as "open networks". Most public WiFi connections lack the appropriate security measures, and put the data of users at risk of exposure.
While public WiFi makes it easy to stay connected on the go, it does come with certain disadvantages from a security perspective. In this article, we'll discuss the risks of using public WiFi and how a VPN will protect you on such networks.
Public WiFi networks are everywhere!
Public WiFi can be found almost anywhere these days, and you may come across them on countless occasions in your daily life. According to Statista, the number of public WiFi hotspots across the world grew to 279 million in 2018, up from 124 million in 2017.
The following are some places where you can find these networks:
1. Cafes, bars, and restaurants
2. Shopping centres and malls
3. Airports, subways, and bus stations
4. Public parks and plazas
5. Hotels and libraries
Why is public WiFi dangerous?
So, you may be wondering "what makes public WiFi unsafe to use?" For starters, a vast majority of these networks aren't password-protected, which means they're accessible to anyone. And as if that wasn't enough, unencrypted connections make intercepting and stealing data a breeze! There are other, more serious threats that you need to worry about as well. Some of the most common ones include:
As the name implies, these are rogue WiFi access points set up by cybercriminals. Their name is similar to that of a legitimate hotspot offered by a business, such as a restaurant. The purpose of fake networks is to trick unwary users into connecting, so they can snoop on their online activities and steal the information most valuable to them like your credit card details.
A MITM attack happens when a hacker inserts himself in the communication between two parties i.e. your device and the website you're accessing over the public WiFi network. This allows them to intercept all the data being transmitted without the sender or recipient even having a clue about it. As such, they're able to see read confidential emails, exploit real-time financial transactions, etc.
Perpetrators can use basic software such as packet analyzers or sophisticated hardware like a WiFi Pineapple to eavesdrop on all the traffic passing through the public WiFi network. They can then see which websites you're visiting, what information you're entering there, and even capture login credentials to hijack your browsing sessions.
Did you know that attackers can use public WiFi to inject your device with data-stealing malware if the file-sharing option is turned on? Once infected, it enables them to gain complete access to just about everything on there. This includes personal files, photos, passwords, and can even go as far as your camera or microphone!
What data can be accessed on public WiFi?
Now that you know why public WiFi leaves you vulnerable to cyber crooks looking to steal your personal data, the next thing you need to understand is what data they can get their hands on. When using public WiFi, the following pieces of information can be compromised:
1. The websites and services you're using
2. Your IP address and location
3. The login credentials for your online accounts
4. Your passwords and other private information
5. The files you send, such as photos
6. Your personal emails, messages, and chats
WiFi VPN – The Best Way to Protect Yourself!
Public WiFi comes with risks, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you should avoid these networks altogether. There are many ways to keep yourself protected on public WiFi, and using a WiFi VPN like PureVPN is the easiest and most reliable way to do so.
Basically, it secures all your data with end-to-end encryption to protect your privacy from any prying eyes. Once your device is connected to a VPN, nobody can view the traffic you're sending over the public WiFi network.
Your real IP address is also masked with another one from the VPN server, adding an extra layer of anonymity. All anyone would know is that you're using a VPN, but they won't be able to figure out your online activities.
Before we conclude, let's quickly take a look at some other measures that you can take to stay safe while using public WiFi networks:
1. Disable file-sharing to keep others on the network from accessing your files and information.
2. Install a firewall for extra protection as it will block unauthorized access to your device.
3. Use HTTPS Everywhere as it will encrypt the communications between you and the site you're visiting.
4. Enable two-factor authentication for all your online accounts. This will make it harder for cyber thieves to break in.
5. Turn off auto-connect and stop your device from connecting to available networks nearby automatically; any one of them could be a fake hotspot set up by a malicious actor.