How to Protect Yourself on Public WiFi Networks
Once a luxury item, free public WiFi has morphed into a standard service that consumers expect when patronizing everything from restaurants and retail stores to airports and hotels. Free WiFi users aren’t just checking Facebook or posting vacation photos to Instagram, all of us have sat down on an airport or in a coffee shop and seen business people tapping away on their laptops, taking advantage of public WiFi to work on the go.
However, public WiFi networks open users up to numerous cyber attacks, especially if the network is unsecured. These include:
- Phony rogue networks set up specifically by cyber criminals. These networks often have innocent-sounding names such as “Customer Public WiFi” and are unsecured.
- Man-in-the-middle attacks where hackers setup a public WiFi network and redirect users, often to a phony login site where their credentials are stolen.
- Wireless sniffer tools that locate unsecured public WiFi networks, analyze their packets, and steal data, monitor network activity, or gather intel for use in a future attack against the enterprise’s network.
- Having your device infected by a worm on another user’s device that travels through the public WiFi network.
Hacking public WiFi networks is so easy and lucrative that cyber criminals step up their game during major events where they know large crowds will gather and connect to public networks.
Staying Safe on Public WiFi
The best way to prevent an attack on a public WiFi network is to never connect to one in the first place, even if it is “secured.” Instead of using a public WiFi network, tether your laptop to your mobile phone or use one of your mobile carrier’s hotspots. If you travel a lot, it may be worth investing in an unlimited mobile data plan.
What if using mobile tethering or hotspot is not an option, your work just won’t wait, and public WiFi is the only realistic option? Protect yourself using these best practices:
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
VPNs allow users to connect to servers through secure connections. While many free or ultra-low-cost VPN services are available, they may not be trustworthy; it’s better to pay for the peace of mind. Employers should provide their employees with VPN access to protect their company’s data when their employees are working in the field.
Use Secure Connections
Configure your browser to default to the “always use HTTPS” option on websites you use frequently, especially those that require login credentials.
Don’t Access Anything Sensitive
Do not check your bank account or credit cards, go shopping, or access any other sites that would expose sensitive personal information.