Connecting your device to the World Wide Web isn’t an issue when you’re at your place. It’s relatively safe, simple to do, and free of crowded traffic. When you leave the safety of your home to a public area, the story changes. When you connect to public Wi-Fi in different places, making certain you can still connect with people, read online news, and work remotely, are you aware of the risks?
Free Wi-Fi is set up in places like airports, eateries, libraries, train stations and is connected by several millions of people every day. A study conducted by ITRC revealed that 75% of internet users make use of public Wi-Fi in varying areas. However, a lot of individuals aren’t aware that free public Wi-Fi has little to no security.
Some people even misconstrue public Wi-Fi to be secure when it asks for a passcode to be accessed. Hackers would still be able to provide a password and penetrate the Wi-Fi network’s security. Utilizing free Wi-Fi without Wi-Fi VPN could pose disastrous consequences to the user particularly because of the exposure of sensitive personal and financial data.
Know the cyberthreats
Cybercriminals usually make use of two methods to breach online security of users on public Wi-Fi. The first method is to connect to a network on which several people are connected to. The moment the hacker connects to the network, he/she can attempt to breach all online traffic flowing through the network. The most usual style of hacking on public Wi-Fi is the man-in-the-middle attack where the criminal acts as an intermediary between connected users and the Wi-Fi router.
The second method used by hackers is to set up fake networks that seem like authentic public Wi-Fi. Unsuspecting users that connect to the network would have their online security totally breached and their data accessible to the hacker. If the file-sharing option is activated on the user’s device, access to the individual’s files would be gotten too.
Sometimes, hackers could go a step further with this method by installing malware on your device. This is facilitated by sending phantom notices of a system upgrade. If the user obliges, malware would be installed on the device, ensuring that the entire activity of the user would be tracked in real-time.
Steps to minimize your risks
Despite these possible disadvantages of using public Wi-Fi, they’re quite useful and we can’t stop utilizing them for our benefits. In this case, you would need to be secure when being connected to them. Here are some tips that would allow you to practice cybersecurity when you’re on public Wi-Fi.
1. Restrict AirDrop and File Sharing on your Device
When you’re using free public Wi-Fi with several individuals, you’ll need to turn off the features that allow ease of file-sharing on your device. If you’re using your personal computer, you can head over to the Network and Sharing Center. Click on ‘Change Advanced Sharing Settings’ and switch off the ‘Turn off File and Printer Sharing’ option.
If you’re using a Mac, head over to ‘System Preferences’, click on ‘Sharing’, then unselect everything. After that, head over to ‘Finder’, click on ‘AirDrop’, and set up to be discovered by no devices.
The above instructions will ensure that no one breaches or transfers your files.
2. Scrutinize the Public Wi-Fi You’re Connecting to
You should endeavor to skim through the terms and conditions of the public Wi-Fi you’re attempting to connect to. While scrolling through, you could discover terms that you’re not comfortable with such as the type of information they’re getting from your browsing session, and what they attempt to use it for.
The idea is to not just blindly accept all pop-up screens shown to you. If the public Wi-Fi requires you to make any installations of programs or extensions, disconnect from it immediately.
3. Use a VPN
The most effective method of securing your data while being connected to free Wi-Fi is by using a VPN. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and it helps to encrypt the online traffic flowing through your device to the Wi-Fi network. In essence, a VPN acts as an intermediary in the internet connection between your device and the public network, making your information undecipherable to anyone who tries spying on your online activity.
The data flowing between your device and the network would be seen by the hacker; only that it would show as a cluster of symbols, numbers, and alphabets, rendering your information useless to the cybercriminal.
An added advantage of using a VPN is that it makes your online identity completely anonymous, hiding your location by fixing your IP address with another location. If you’re in Japan and you make use of a VPN by connecting to Atlanta in the U.S., your IP address would show that you’re currently in Atlanta.
There are two types of VPNs available; free VPNs and paid VPNs. The advantage of paid VPNs over free VPNs is that they provide you with extra security when utilizing them and come with lots of cool features.
4. Only connect to HTTPS Sites
In your browser, you should be able to determine if you’re visiting a HTTPS website nor HTTP website. Usually, a HTTP website shows up with the sign of the padlock in the address bar and a HTTP website shows ‘Not Secure’. The method of identification differs between internet browsers though. Some browsers could simply show HTTP or HTTPS before the website’s address.
A HTTPS website provides security for your online activity. It shows that the connection between your browser and the webserver is encrypted, stopping any possible spying on your data. HTTP websites, on the other hand, are not secure and make it easy for hackers to spy on what you’re doing on your device.
5. Enable your firewall
When you turn on your device’s firewall, external breaches of your system would be prevented. Firewalls have their limitations concerning cybersecurity but that doesn’t mean they should be turned off.
A firewall serves as an obstacle that secures your device from threats like malware. They determine whether the data packets getting into your system are secure and restrict suspicious data packets from getting into your device. This way, it protects your device from cybercriminal threats.
A lot of individuals switch off Windows firewall due to the amount of pop-ups that come on when using the device. To reactivate Windows Firewall, you can head over to the Control Panel, click on ‘System and Security’ and select ‘Windows Firewall’. If you are a Mac user, you can go to ‘System Preferences’, then ‘Security & Privacy’, then ‘Firewall’ tab and enable Firewall on Mac.
Some extra tips you can take to secure your device while using public Wi-Fi are to activate two-factor authentication on online services you log in to, avoid using financial services on free Wi-Fi, and to switch off automatic connection to free Wi-Fi. As better updates to Wi-Fi connections are launched in the future, they’ll have more secure forms of protection.
Pending the updates, the best way to stop all possible forms of cyber-attacks while using public Wi-Fi have, however, been listed above. They include turning off file sharing, subscribing to a competent paid VPN service, turning on Firewall on your device, and connecting only to HTTPS sites when using public Wi-Fi.
How to be Cyber Safe When on Public WiFi
By: Jack Warner
Jack is an accomplished cybersecurity expert with years of experience under his belt at TechWarn, a trusted digital agency to world-class cybersecurity companies. He’s into all things digital, from cryptocurrencies to the latest IoT gadgets. You’ll find him all over the internet sharing ideas about a tech-enabled future.