Free internet hot spots are everywhere these days, from the local café, to the mall, to your doctor’s office waiting room. Many people appreciate the opportunity to access free Wi-Fi — it allows telecommuters the freedom to work from their favorite coffee shop, or smartphone users the ability to save on data usage. But using public Wi-Fi could cause unavoidable damage simply because it's hard or impossible to know your device is under attack. Here are the biggest risks:
When you use your laptop or smartphone to access free internet, the computer sends a signal to the website or service. But hackers can use a device to basically eavesdrop on and capture the information being sent between the two. This is known as a Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attack, and it works no matter what type of website you visit (HTTPS, encrypted, or not).
Accessing an unencrypted network will surely open you up to hackers’ whims. When a router is encrypted, it means the information sent between it and your device is coded and can’t be deciphered by a hacker. But if the network you’re accessing wasn’t set up with encryption enabled, your information is open for the taking.
Hackers love to look for security holes in order to put malicious software onto your device. It allows them to access everything from your documents to photos to the camera.
Wi-Fi “sniffing” involves monitoring network traffic and then analyzing it to find useful details from all of your online activity. This includes viewing the web pages you visit to capture your login information, which can be then be used to hijack your accounts.
When you’re accessing free Wi-Fi in a new location, be sure you know the exact name of the network. Hackers will create sound-alike networks to trick victims into connecting to the wrong hot spot. This allows them to view all your sensitive information.
Protect Your Information
If you still plan to use public Wi-Fi, follow these steps:
- Avoid logging into your bank account, health records, or any site that contains personal or payment information.
- Only visit HTTPS sites
- Log out of your accounts when you are done
- Disable file sharing
- Don’t automatically connect to Wi-Fi networks