Surfing the web from our laptop or smartphones became a common thing, whether we are in airports, coffee shops, or other public places. Lucky for us there are free public Wi-Fi networks everywhere. But if you don’t want your luck to turn on you, you should know that when you are connected to a public network, your private online data is pretty much exposed.
So, here’s why we hope you read this article while accessing a private, secure Wi-Fi network.
Wi-Fi is a wireless local area network (WLAN) that enables your laptop or smartphone to connect to the Internet using radio waves. It’s usually password protected, but if it’s open it allows anyone within its range to access resources of the network. And by anyone we mean, not only jolly tourists and wannabe writers who only feel inspired to work in crowded coffee shops. We mean hackers, who are very much interested in your passwords and other private information that goes and comes from your device. And it’s not that hard to do it either. They even have free apps that give easy access to your precious data.
For example, the WiFi Pineapple is a friendly and easy to use device that allows anyone to get access to all your traffic and password entries. The gadget does man-in-the-middle attacks on Wi-Fi networks. (A man-in-the-middle attack happens when the hacker secretly relays and possibly alters the communication between two parties who believe they are directly communicating with each other.)
Sure, if you are mainly scrolling for cat jokes you might not care so much about protecting your privacy but if you do your banking online maybe you don’t want to take that risk.
Another big threat is “page spoofing,” where a malicious access point controls a domain name resolution. For example, you may be asked to “like” something on Facebook before you can access the Internet and then be directed to a fake Facebook login page that looks like the real thing. As you log in, this fake page would record your credentials, show a login error, and then redirect you to the real Facebook page. Remember how much you struggled to find that unique bullet proof password for your account? We’re betting you don’t just want to give that away.
Besides that, the hacker can destroy any information on the network and also can carry out other cyber-attacks, since there is no way to identify him on a public network.
But there are some other bad scenarios when public Wi-Fi becomes the Trojan Horse. Even though you are careful about your online surfing hygiene you are still at risk. If your internet provider doesn’t have a malware protection you can also get infected. This is why is very important you make sure you’ve got a firewall running.
An evil twin is a WiFi access point that appears to be legitimate but actually has been set up by a hacker to trick users into connecting to a malicious hotspot. Once the victim connects to the evil twin, the hacker can access all the Internet traffic.
Accepting cookies on a safe network is a normal practice, but on a public wi-fi, these cookies can be used to track your browsing history, your login details to banking sites and social sites and so on.
So, to be clear, here’s a list of private information that is exposed on public Wi-Fi networks:
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But don’t worry it’s not all bad news. If you really need to use a public Wi-Fi network we can recommend some measures to protect your privacy.
If you are using Windows, be careful to mark the Wi-Fi connection as a public network. You should also turn on the Windows Firewall.
Try to surf without accepting cookies or if you did, delete your browsing history after you’re done with surfing. This won’t guarantee complete protection from attackers, but prevent future attacks to great extent.
To protect your privacy enable the “Always Use HTTPS” option on websites that you visit frequently. Most websites that require an account or credentials have the “HTTPS” option in their settings.
When you are connecting to the Internet at a public Wi-Fi, it’s unlikely to share anything. So, the wise thing is to turn off sharing from the system preferences or Control Panel.
Even if you haven’t actively connected to a network, the WiFi hardware in your computer is still transmitting data between any network within range. If you’re just using your computer just for doing some offline work, keep your WiFi off to better protect your privacy. Besides being more efficient at protecting your privacy your battery will thank you.
Two-factor authentication identifies users with a two-step process, combining components from the system and a knowledge factor provided by the user. For example, such security systems are set up in conjunction with a token account to provide a password. However, with these extra steps (which take only a few seconds), most illicit actors can be blocked from the system.
The best way to make sure that you are protected is to use a VPN service. A VPN is a network technology that creates a secure connection over a public network such as the Internet or a private network owned by a service provider. It’s safe because when you are using it you connect to a server run by your VPN provider. This means that all data traveling between your computer and the VPN server is encrypted so that only you and the VPN server can “see” it.
VPNs are often used by business travelers to access their business network, including all its local resources, while on the road. You can also set up your VPN to access your own network while travelling, hide your browsing activity, downloading files or, if the case, avoid internet censorship. Many Chinese people use VPNs to get around the Great Firewall of China and gain access to the entire Internet.
So, now that you are granted with the gift of knowledge it’s up to you how you decide to protect your privacy while using public Wi-Fi networks. And we’re not saying that legions of hackers are out there just to get you, but the saying “better safe than sorry” seems very much appropriate when it comes to sensitive information regarding your personal and professional life.
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