Who doesn't love restaurants or hotel rooms with free Wifi? We all understand how intense the lure of surfing the internet and checking your social media networks for FREE can be. I mean, who wouldn't want to save their mobile data plan, even if it's just for a few minutes? We all do, and we've all used free Wifi at some point. However, before you connect to that public hotspot, you should understand the dangers that come with it.
Here's the thing—free doesn't always mean safe. Most public Wifi hotspots are open and easily accessible by snoopers. Well, some providers may enforce password access, but this still doesn't guarantee surefire security. If you can get the passcodes, what makes you think that the bad guys can't? Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how dangerous public Wifi can be, here's why it's safer to use your phone's hotspot.
Your Phone's Hotspot Has More Security Features
Your phone's 4G network is encrypted, and so is the data you send through it. You can also set personalized solid access codes to keep off snoopers. Unless you share the hotspot's password with others, there are minimal chances that it will land in the wrong hands.
What's more—if you suspect that someone has gained unauthorized access, you can easily disconnect them from your end. Identifying a malicious intruder is easier because it's just you, and maybe a few known friends, using the hotspot, unlike in a public Wifi. Also, you can reset passcodes at your convenience and set time limits for terrestrial users. The shorter intruders stay connected to your network, the lesser the damage they can cause.
Can your phone's hotspot be hacked? Yes, it can, but it's less susceptible to breaches than an open free public Wifi. To compromise a 4G-enabled mobile hotspot, for example, a hacker needs sophisticated tools and a great wealth of experience. For public Wifi, however, all they need is some basic hacking skills and simple tools such as the free Firesheep.
What Are The Dangers Of Using A Public Wifi?
With several people connecting to free public Wifi, these hotspots provide an ample playground for bad cyber actors. To the cyberattackers, this is like a "hacker's paradise," especially given that most of these public hotspots have minimal to zero cybersecurity features. Here are some of the risks you're exposing yourself to when using public Wifi:
1. Most Free Wifi Hotspots Are Not Encrypted
When you use a private office or phone Wifi network, every data you generate or transmit between the connected gadgets and the router is automatically encrypted. So, anybody who's within the Wifi's range cannot snoop and view your browsing history.
That's not the case with open public hotspots—most of them do not encrypt user traffic and data. A cyberattacker within the hotspot's range can easily see your browsing activity and even view what you post on social forums. If you use the Wifi to access your office website, for example, the cyber actor will trace the URL you visited and may even steal your logins.
2. Rogue Hotspots
Who says that all open public Wifi hotspots are legitimate? There's an emerging trend of cyber actors creating rogue hotspots and using them to peer into unsuspecting users' credentials. Sometimes, the hackers use names of popular hotspots such as local restaurants or public parks. As soon as you connect to the internet through these illegitimate hotspots, the cyber actors monitor and intercept your traffic and may even introduce malicious software into the gadgets you're using.
3. Man-in-the-Middle Attacks
Here, cyber attackers position themselves between your gadget and the Wifi router. Because the hotspot is unencrypted, you may not even notice their presence. They "eavesdrop" on your traffic, communication patterns, and sensitive credentials, which they can mine to sell or use to launch attacks on the connected gadget.
These are just a few dangers posed by public Wifi hotspots, and we're sure they're not anything new. Your IT support team must have sent you tons of documents explaining why you shouldn't use free Wifi. According to One World Identity, however, 81% of netizens still connect to public hotspots despite knowing their potential dangers.
If you must use public Wifi, at least consider implementing some basic safety measures.
How To Stay Safe When Using Public Wifi
Always assume that every public Wifi you're about to connect to has an evil character lurking somewhere in the shadows. So, whatever action you take, make sure that you do not expose your sensitive information. Consider using the following safety tips:
- Encrypt your traffic with a VPN connection: A VPN acts as a barrier between your gadget and the hotspot's router. It encrypts your traffic and prevents any third party from accessing it without authorization. Most employers provide VPNs to workers who operate remotely. If your employees use personal VPNs, caution them against using the free ones; they pose the same threats as public Wifi.
- Don't use public Wifi to access sensitive information: Unless you're using a secure VPN, avoid using free hotspots to access personal credentials and sensitive sites like company websites or banking accounts. This way, you will keep your personal information from cyber actors until you have a safer connection.
- Stick to "HTTPS": Websites whose addresses begin with HTTPS are encrypted, hence offer an extra layer of protection, unlike those that start with HTTP.
- Turn off "Connect Automatically": Configure your device's Wifi setting to request permission anytime before connecting to an open Wifi. That way, you prevent it from unknowingly connecting to rogue hotspots.
Our advice remains that your phone's hotspot should be your first option; it's safer than free Wifi. If you must connect to a public hotspot, ensure that it is legitimate first, then implement the above safety protocols.
Leading IT offers 24/7, all-inclusive, fast, and friendly technology and cybersecurity support for nonprofits, manufacturers, schools, accounting firms, religious organizations, government, and law offices with 10-200 employees across the Chicagoland area.