10 Risks of Using Public Wi-Fi

Public Wifi

How many times have you connected your mobile or laptop to a free, public Wi-Fi connection? I know I used to do it all the time.

I mean, free internet data! What’s not to like?

But then I uncovered the reality of what goes on behind the scenes with public Wi-Fi and the facts may alarm you. Read on as we discuss the top 10 risks of using public Wi-Fi and what you can do to ensure a safer browsing experience. 

First, how do we use public Wi-Fi? 

According to an article published by Forbes, here are some key facts around public Wi-Fi usage:

  • 35% of people use public Wi-Fi monthly
  • 23% of people use public Wi-Fi to reduce their own mobile phone data usage
  • 20% of people use public Wi-Fi for financial transactions 
  • Restaurants and hotels are the most common places where public Wi-Fi is used, and 
  • 2 in 5 people have had their information compromised, with a majority of people having their data compromised using airport WI-Fi. 

These figures are pretty alarming, especially the one about a majority of people having their information compromised while connecting to airport Wi-Fi. The next time you are at an airport and connect to their public airport Wi-Fi, you may as well assume that your data and information are going to be hacked or compromised in some way.

It’s safer to ensure you finish your bits and pieces at home while connected to a secure home nbn connection versus risking having your personal data stolen because you connected to an unsafe Wi-Fi network.

It’s just not worth it.

OK, what are the top risks of using public Wi-Fi?

Here are the most common risks associated with using a public Wi-Fi connection. Some of these are a little technical, but let’s take a look.

  • Man-in-the-middle attacks

This happens when someone listens in on the conversation between your device and the network and steals all the information you send, like your login information and credit card numbers.

  • Unencrypted networks

Hackers have an easier time gaining access to information that is transmitted through public Wi-Fi networks because many of these networks do not encrypt the data that is transmitted.

  • Malware distribution

It’s possible for hackers to disseminate malware by exploiting security weaknesses in public Wi-Fi networks. Malware could be downloaded onto your device without your knowledge if hackers are successful in their mission.

  • Snooping and sniffing

Hackers can listen in on Wi-Fi data with special software kits. This lets them see everything you do online, from the websites you visit to the login information you give them.

  • Malicious hotspots

Hackers may set up fake Wi-Fi hotspots that appear legitimate but are designed to steal information from anyone who connects to them.

  1. Packet sniffing

Cybercriminals can use packet sniffers to capture data packets from unsecured Wi-Fi networks, allowing them to steal data sent over the network.

  • Session hijacking

Hackers steal the cookies that a website sends to your device during a session theft or hijack. These cookies can then be used to pretend to be you and get into your accounts without your permission.

  • Rogue networks

A rogue network is a Wi-Fi network set up by cybercriminals that mimic legitimate networks. The idea is to trick you into connecting to their rogue network, making your devices vulnerable to attacks.

  • Worm attacks

Worms can spread from infected devices to your device over a shared network without any user interaction, potentially leading to significant data loss or damage.

  • Sidejacking

Sidejacking involves the interception of cookies over a network to gain unauthorised access to accounts on other websites, such as social media or email.

Ways to Stay Safer Online

When browsing online, either using your home internet or a public Wi-Fi connection, here are some tips to help keep you safe and your data more secure. This is especially important if you connect to free public Wi-Fi.

Use a VPN to protect your privacy.

A VPN, or virtual private network, encrypts your connection to the internet, which makes it harder for hackers to get in and steal your information. Before connecting to public Wi-Fi, you should always use a VPN service that you can trust.

Be sure to update your software 

Make sure that all of your apps, websites, and operating system are up to date. When you update software, it often comes with security patches that fix new bugs. Running the latest software versions make it harder for hackers to exploit your device.

Turn on two-factor authentication (2FA)

For extra protection, use two-factor authentication for accounts like email, banking, and social media that are very important to you. For this method to work, you need more than just a password to prove who you are.

Don’t conduct sensitive transactions on public Wi-Fi

Make this a hard and fast rule. Don’t login to online banking, send sensitive emails, or conduct online shopping while connected to public Wi-Fi. Wait until you have a secure home Wi-Fi connection to do these things. If you now know that public Wi-Fi is not secure, why risk it?

Disable sharing settings

When connected to a public network, disable file sharing and other sharing settings on your device. This prevents unauthorised access to your files and data.

Browse only secure websites

Ensure that the websites you visit use HTTPS, indicated by the padlock symbol in the address bar. HTTPS encrypts the data sent between your browser and the website, protecting your information.

Monitor your Bluetooth connectivity

Disable Bluetooth when not in use to avoid potential unauthorised access to your device. Having Bluetooth readily enabled, especially in public places, is just like drawing unwanted attention to you. 

Key points

  • Public Wi-Fi usage is prevalent, with 35% of people using it monthly.
  • Connecting to public Wi-Fi at airports may lead to data theft, making it a risky thing to do.
  • Public Wi-Fi connections pose several risks, including man-in-the-middle attacks, use of unencrypted networks, malware distribution, and more. 
  • You can stay safer online by not using public Wi-Fi, but when you do, ensure you use a VPN, use 2FA, don’t conduct financial transactions and disable sharing settings. 

Marshall Thurlow is Director and Founder of Orion Marketing Pty Ltd. He is a digital marketer with expertise in SEO, website design, content marketing and project management.

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