The ability of a cybercriminal to place themselves between you and the connection point poses the biggest security vulnerability to public WiFi. You unknowingly communicate with the cybercriminal, who then collects and passes your information to the hotspot, rather than you connecting to the hotspot directly. While there are ways to stay protected on public WiFi, it is still advisable to avoid using it.
What Is Public WiFi?
Public WiFi allows you to access the internet for free. It is accessible in many public locations, including libraries, coffee shops, airports, restaurants and hotels. People who work remotely or travel frequently find public WiFi convenient. However, open WiFi has historically been a risky online environment for your information. Although no WiFi network is fully risk-free, the security of your private data greatly depends on the type of WiFi network you’re utilizing.
Risks of Public WiFi
One of the most prominent cyber threats on public WiFi is the man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack. MITM attacks rely on network manipulation, or the creation of malicious networks under the control of cybercriminals. Traffic is seized by the cybercriminal, who either lets it through while collecting data or redirects it to a different location. The term “man-in-the-middle attack” comes from cybercriminals essentially operating as “middlemen” between the sender and the recipient of information. Since anyone can join a public WiFi network, you have no idea who is watching or intercepting your online data.
Some public WiFi networks also lack transport layer security (TLS), a type of encryption that scrambles data and renders it unreadable to any attacker who might intercept it.
Some ways to monitor for MITM attacks include:
Analyze Strange Web Addresses – Ensure there are no special characters in the URL.
Unexpected Disconnections and Network Delays – Frequent disconnections or delays in your network could be an indication of an attack.
Monitor Public WiFi – Avoid connecting to public WiFi networks with strange names, and always use a VPN.
How to Stay Safe on Public WiFi
As our lives move increasingly online, it has never been more crucial to safeguard against online predators. Any device can be at risk. Here are some helpful tips on how to keep your data secure on public WiFi.
Use Strong Passwords
Always create long and unique passwords for each of your accounts. Never reuse passwords. This way, even if a cybercriminal compromises one of your passwords on an insecure WiFi network, they can’t use it to get into multiple accounts.
Enable Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a security measure for identity and access management that demands two pieces of identification before granting access to resources and data. With 2FA enabled, even if a cybercriminal steals one of your passwords, they won’t be able to use it without the additional authentication factor.
Use a VPN
When using an unsecured network, the best way to keep your information secure is to connect to a virtual private network (VPN). When accessing your company’s data and infrastructure over an unsafe connection, such as a WiFi hotspot, a VPN connection is essential. VPNs encrypt all the data you send and receive, including your browsing activity, so no one can read it but you.
Even those who take all reasonable steps to ensure the security of public Wi-Fi will occasionally have problems. Make sure your devices are encrypted, and always beware of any attacks.