These days it seems as if every place is a potential workspace. From cafés and chain restaurants to hotels and airports, hotspot providers are offering free WiFi to their guests. But how safe are these public WiFi connections—and how can you protect yourself and your data from cybercriminals?
Nobody wants their data to be compromised, yet if you’re regularly logging into free WiFi, you may be putting yourself at risk. Let’s look at a few ways hackers and other bad actors use public WiFi to their advantage, and examine some basic precautions that can reduce your risk of becoming their next victim
Why Hackers Love Free Wifi
Unprotected WiFi hotspots are soft targets for anyone intent on compromising or stealing your data. That’s because they’re easy to hack, and large numbers of people use them without considering the security risks. Here are just a few ways hackers can invade your privacy and access your sensitive data.
Using a free WiFi connection can provide a gateway for malicious code to enter your device. Many forms of malware are sophisticated enough to avoid easy detection, making them hard to root out. Yet they can cause significant damage—including crashing your OS, robbing you of bandwidth, and compromising sensitive personal or financial data.
- Evil Twins
Another easy way for hackers to use a public WiFi network to access your data is to create an “evil twin”—a network with a name resembling that of the host’s network. Adding an extra character or word to a legitimate network name can fool users into logging on to a malicious “twin” network. Once you’re on the hacker’s network, your data (and maybe even your keystrokes) are no longer private.
- The Man in the Middle
Another way hackers can access your data is to intercept it while in transit or fool you into entering sensitive information such as passwords and financial information into a fake site. Often this occurs when a cybercriminal sends you an email that seems to come from a legitimate source—like your bank or credit card provider—requesting some sort of information. If you take the bait and log into the site, the hacker wins.
How Virtual Private Networks Can Help
So with so many potential risks, how can you protect yourself from cybercrime and still have confidence in free WiFi? One answer is Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). A VPN basically uses an independent server as a buffer between you and the WiFi you’re using. It then encrypts your data and sends it via a dedicated pathway through this network, making it difficult for hackers to access, corrupt, or intercept the data. VPNs currently among the most robust protections you can use to safeguard yourself from cybercrime.
- VPNs can be installed on your phone, laptop, or tablet. Just log in to the VPN on your device before you connect to any public WiFi and you’re protected.
- VPNs provide strong encryption to protect you from hackers and snoopers.
- VPNs safeguard your data while in transit.
- VPNs can hide your IP address from potential hackers, replacing it with the IP address of the VPN’s remote server.
- Most VPNs are okay with torrenting, streaming, etc.
VPNs provide a powerful level of protection against cybercrime, but no one method is 100% foolproof. Here are some other precautions you can take when using public WiFi:
- Don’t log in to accounts that may put sensitive data at risk (these include banking or credit card sites, email, and social media)
- Don’t simply trust that any WiFi is secure. In fact, it’s safer to assume the opposite.
- Beware of “evil twins.” If you’re not sure of the exact name of your WiFi host’s network, ask before logging in to their network.
- Disable automatic connections—this reduces your risk of acquiring malware.
- Turn off file sharing—this will reduce the risk that prying eyes will see what you’re doing.
At Waterdog Computer Works, we understand how valuable your sensitive data is to you—and how quickly cybercrime can upend your work, your finances, and your life. That’s why we pride ourselves on offering top cybersecurity protections for all your devices. Don’t put your sensitive data at risk. Contact us today!
Located in Wayne, Pa, Waterdog Computer Works is a complete IT solutions and cybersecurity provider serving businesses throughout Philadelphia’s western Main Line. Focused and responsive, Waterdog Computer Works offers a two-hour emergency response time guarantee, no-risk contracts and a team of technicians with over 75 years of combined experience. Call us at 484.580.8568 to speak to a member of our team.