Public Wi-Fi is a risk to anyone, as it allows hackers to snoop on your personal information, emails, and see almost all of your online interactions, given they are not encrypted. You may even be exposed to malicious software and virus attacks. How can travelers take precaution and prevent being preyed upon while browsing on public Wi-Fi? First, let's discuss what is “wrong" with public Wi-Fi.
Why-Not use Wi-Fi? Open Wi-Fi Security Risks
The main issue with logging into public Wi-Fi is that all the information you're accessing is technically available to everyone using the network. Those who are not looking to snoop may not know this, but trust that hackers are well aware. This includes site visits, text sent/received, and login information. Take a second to think about how many times you've entered sensitive information into your computer or phone, while on public Wi-Fi, not thinking anything of it. At home, you have the ability to encrypt your network to avoid any type of snooping. While accessing a public network, however, you don't automatically have that luxury.
The main types of public Wi-Fi security risks include:
- Open Network. The same thing that makes public Wi-Fi desirable for travelers makes it a great access point for hackers. Libraries, shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops are all prime locations for hackers to prey on unsuspecting people. Unsecured Wi-Fi risks, galore!
- Compromised Devices. Whether you're using your own laptop, or a computer located in an Internet café or hotel, you should be weary of connecting to the “home" network. In this particular case, accessing the public Wi-Fi network is safer, because it ensures files and other sensitive materials will not be shared with other computers on the local network.
- Malicious Hotspots. Hotspots are usually a great way to connect to the Web, especially while traveling with no Internet connectivity in sight. Clever hackers, however, may take the opportunity to set up a bogus hotspot in highly visited areas to gather personal data. If you connect to the fake network, you most likely won't even realize you're using an unsafe connection. Unfortunately, there is no way to be entirely sure that the public network you are joining is legitimate, and not set up to attack unknowing connectors. Fake Wi-Fi Hotspot security risks leave your personal information hanging in the open to potentially be routed to the hacker's network without your knowledge.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
Besides completely forgoing the use of unsecured networks to access personal data, there are a few ways to keep your personal information safe from virtual attacks. Keep these tips in mind to defend yourself against unsecured Wi-Fi security risks.
- Be Aware. – Keep in mind that attacks don't only occur on your laptop or a desktop computer. Smartphones and tablets are also susceptible to security risks.
- Be Suspicious. – Don't assume that all Wi-Fi links are legitimate. Exercise caution while browsing, and never connect to an obscure or unknown wireless access point.
- Play it Safe. – Most public Wi-Fi access points are located in restaurants, cafés, hotels, and other points of interests. Take a moment to consult with an employee about the correct name of the particular location's Wi-Fi network. This small precautionary step may protect you from connecting to a “trap" network, designed to lure unsuspecting visitors and harvest their personal information.
- Use a VPN. – By using a VPN (Virtual Private Network), you can ensure that all of your online activity is routed through an encrypted secure server controlled by the VPN company. This will prevent lurking hackers from successfully mining your data.
- Enable Firewall. Doing so prevents hackers from accessing your computer, so before you connect to an unsecure network, make sure it is enabled.
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