“Don’t do online banking or anything sensitive on public Wi-Fi networks.” We know this advice pretty well but why is it so? Why is using public Wi-Fi networks so dangerous? Why isn’t online banking secure, since it’s encrypted? Several problems remain attached with using the public Wi-Fi networks. The very nature of this network makes space for snooping; the network may be full of compromised machines and quite worryingly, the hotspot may also be a malicious one.
Now, public Wi-Fi is almost everywhere. Though most of us use it, we are not aware of the risks and thus unable to take the requisite precautions for protecting ourselves. The prime hazard of public Wi-Fi is that information that is transferred between your PC and the PC that you access is available to everybody on a given network. The attackers simply intercept communication. They can easily put their hands on the password, username, and all other requisites.
Dangerous Amigos of Public Wi-Fi
There are chiefly three different avenues of attack here.
- Man-in-the middle-attack
- Wi–Fi sniffing
#1. Man in the Middle Attack
In this case, the attackers put together their own network standing between your device and the device you are trying to access. All the information here is routed through their device. If this approach is made use of, it does not matter whether you are using an encrypted website.
This is more dangerous since it is giving the attacker access to everything on a given device. They can steal the files and pictures and also turn on microphones and cameras to eavesdrop. If the attacker gets login details for cloud service, it’s pretty easy to slip malware into the device.
#3. Wi-Fi Sniffing
Wi-Fi sniffing involves monitoring network traffic. The attackers here record huge amounts of data while it travels across the network. This is analyzed later for uncovering necessary details. Unfortunately, it’s not even illegal to sniff most of the time.
Snooping is Easy
You probably think that you need special equipment as well as programming ability for monitoring Wi-Fi and getting access to other people’s information. Unfortunately enough, this is far from being the case. The hackers use the same tools as you and they are quite easy to lay hands on.
You just need to turn on Wi-Fi sniffing and sign into a public Wi-Fi network. The software allows you to listen and check out the traffic transferred over a given network. It’s quite easy to see the things that’re being done on the computer.
For man-in-the-middle attacks, some devices need to be purchased online. There is little need to be a computer science student to operate these devices.
Unless you are doing the snooping yourself, it’s hard to tell whether you are being exposed. It’s hard to detect man-in-the-middle attacks or sniffing.
How can You Protect Yourself?
If you are on a public Wi-Fi network, do not access bank accounts or other sensitive details. We also send sensitive information through emails. If you don’t want to expose them, stay away from accessing emails or Facebook while you are on a public network. Remember that apps on your phone may transmit data in the background. You need to limit background data on Android and iPhone. You also need to make sure that you are connecting to the right network.
If you don’t know who is running the network, it’s better to avoid using it. Also, stop your device automatically connecting to public Wi-Fi whenever it’s available. This will help you to avoid the dodgy networks. Criminals usually set up a hotspot in the busy areas. Ask the café owners or people who work in the given location for connection details. This will help you to get connected with a legitimate network.
Let’s have a look at some ways that will help you to protect yourself.
Watch out the Websites you Visit
Avoid visiting the websites where you need to log in using a username and a password. So, don’t visit the websites of banks and other financial institutions, webmail, and the social networking websites. Avoid giving out unscrupulous details that may haunt you later.
Visit such websites only when you are on a secure private network.
Be Aware of the Surroundings
As soon as you open your laptop in a hotel lobby, airport or coffee shop, someone may be observing you secretly. Make sure that the shoulder surfers are not watching over the things you type. To combat this, consider buying a privacy screen and take it with you. If that’s impossible, just sit with the laptop screen turned away from everyone else.
Use a Virtual Private Network or VPN
VPNs create a network within a network. This helps to keep everything done on a public network private. Even on the password protected networks, people can intercept the signal. VPNs aid one to be invisible, helping to check sites without worrying yourself out.
Turn Off Sharing
Both Mac and Windows love sharing but that’s not a good thing always. Having shared folders, shared files and shared drives are great only if you will be accessing things from your tablet or the smartphone. However, sharing the files with people looking for it at the local coffee shop is far from being a nice idea. While on Mac, you can turn off file sharing with ease. Just head over to System Preferences – Sharing – turn off ‘File Sharing’.
The Windows users can turn off file sharing by right clicking on network icon in the system tray and clicking on the ‘Open Network and Sharing Center.’ Now go to ‘Change advanced sharing settings’. From here, you can turn off sharing options for guest/public networks.
Turn on Firewall
Regardless of whether you are using a Windows or a Mac machine, you need to turn on the system firewall.
It’s always better to be safe rather than sorry.
It’s fun and relaxing to sit back and surf the web while enjoying latte at a coffee shop. Sometimes, you may need to check out on your bank account, social sites or webmail while traveling. However, remember that connecting to the hotspots always come with a risk. Just imagine what may happen if wrong people get your login details.
Be careful of your surfing habits and use these tips to remain safe and secure while using public Wi-Fi.
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