How Safe is Free Wi-Fi?
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The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the public Wi-Fi networks are growing by the minute. Whether you’re enjoying a family vacation or a refreshing iced coffee in the city, be cautious when using the airport’s or local coffee shop’s Wi-Fi. We’re here to let you in on a little secret – your information isn’t as safe as you may think on these networks. To be frank, your private information is in danger.
While you may not think to worry about the free Wi-Fi network you connect to, it’s something that can be threatening to your online information. Often times, people connect to public Wi-Fi in their area to avoid using their data plan. While it might seem like a harmless click of a button, you’re making yourself vulnerable to cybercriminals. This network might be the creation of a hacker in your area, trying to gain your online data to steal credit card numbers or any other valuable personal information. Therefore, you need to be vigilant. Whether you are traveling or enjoying a nice snack around the corner, make sure you’re using a safe and secure network.
Types of Attacks
There are several ways that your information can be stolen. The first is a Man in The Middle attack, where someone can literally get in the middle of a data transmission. The hacker’s computer intercepts the internet data that was supposed to be sent from your computer to a service/website, allowing them to get in and read the transmission while taking valuable information from you. Another way is through unencrypted networks, where your information can be easily accessible. You can simply turn on encryption to avoid this. Malware distribution is another huge problem. An attacker can slip malware on your computer through a security hole/weakness found on the operating system or software program. Then, attackers exploit this weakness by writing code to target specific vulnerabilities on your device and inject malware. Another way your information is in jeopardy is through the Snooping and Sniffing technique, where cybercriminals can buy special software kits and devices to help assist with eavesdropping on Wi-Fi signals – especially weak or public ones. This can allow for attackers to access everything you’re doing online and again, put your personal information at risk. A final, but still dangerous, way for hackers to target you is through malicious hotspots. Here, the hacker tricks you into connecting because the name of the Wi-Fi network seems reputable; once you connect, they can view your sensitive information (Norton).
Not sure how to save yourself from your neighborhood hacker or any other unsafe online scams you may endure using a free/public Wi-Fi? We’re here to help. Here are some easy tips to follow:
- Simply do NOT connect to a network unless you know it’s secure. If a hacker wants to, they can make a free Wi-Fi with a similar or enticing name to get you to use it, and then your information can be sent directly to them.
- Make sure the Wi-Fi you are connecting to has an official login page. Otherwise, chances are it’s a scam.
- If you really need to use a free network, try not to use any personal information while connected to it – especially, and we cannot stress this enough, NO financial transactions. Is free Wi-Fi worth your bank information?
- A small but sometimes unrecognizable difference in real versus fake networks are the use of HTTPS and HTTP. If the website you are on doesn’t contain HTTPS, but rather HTTP, it’s unsecure. Log off and make sure that extra S is always present.
- Disable file sharing and log out of accounts once you’ve finished whatever needed to be done. The less information that can be transferred, the better.
- Lastly, to help avoid any sort of tracking on your computer – especially while using a free Wi-Fi that might be cause for concern – is to use the Ghostery Browser Extension. It will not only block ads and trackers, but also show you exactly who and what is watching you on each site you visit – an extra layer of defense against any type of prying online objects.
While most of us want to avoid spending extra money, two easy paid solutions can also aid in keeping you safe. One is setting up a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, which you can learn more about (along with some other ways to keeps your browsing information untraceable) here. Ghostery’s latest privacy suite, Ghostery Midnight, will include a VPN and the same leading tracker protection technology you’ve come to know and love. The other simple, but paid, fix is to update your data plan to an unlimited one. This removes the need to connect to an unsecure/unprotected Wi-Fi network altogether.
So, next time you’re traveling or just hanging out downtown, take these tips into consideration before connecting to a free Wi-Fi network. Your information is both important and constantly in danger of being stolen by outside sources. Keep yourself and your information safe. Let remembering the sunscreen or how much milk you want in your latte be your biggest concern, not the possibility of a hacker gaining your personal and sensitive information.
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