The 5 Unsecured (Or Public) WiFi Network Risks (And How to Avoid It)

You’ve heard the stories. You know what it’s like to be on the end of a hacking attack, or worse – an identity theft. But you still want to use public WiFi networks because they’re convenient and fast. I get it. I’ve been there.

But what you may not know is that using an unsecured or public WiFi network can be a huge security risk. In fact, it’s one of the easiest ways for hackers to gain access to your device and all of your personal information. So how can you stay safe when using public WiFi? Here are some of the potential risks and how to avoid them.

unsecured wifi network risks

1. Personal Information Theft

One of the biggest risks is having your information stolen while connected to a public WiFi network. Hackers can hack into these networks quite easily, and once they gain access, they can see all of the data you send over it. This includes passwords, credit card numbers – anything that’s transmitted through the airwaves.

How Can I Avoid This?

The good news? It’s pretty easy to stay safe. Just remember that the WiFi network you’re using isn’t secure, and be sure not to do anything online that requires personal information like:

  • Sending your credit card details when making an e-commerce purchase
  • Entering in a password when logging into a social media account
  • Logging on to emails that you use for online banking
  • Sending an email with a password or username attached to it. This would be like handing over your PIN in real life, but worse – because there are usually no restrictions on who can see this information.

Only use the network to browse the internet, watch videos, or stream music to guarantee your safety. If you need something from a site that requires login details, try accessing it through a phone or tablet’s data network or at home where WiFi networks are typically more secure.

2. Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

Man-in-the-middle attacks are where someone intercepts your communication with a website, meaning that they can see everything you type in and every page you visit.

They do this by setting up a fake WiFi hotspot, which tricks your device into thinking it’s the real one. For instance, if you’re at a cafe and you connect to their WiFi network, someone else can use the same name as theirs.

Once your device has connected, they can see all of your information or at least have access to it if they intercept any sensitive packets sent over the connection, which would give them login details and so much more.

This is dangerous because you won’t be able to tell whether you’re connected to the real WiFi or not. Your device will automatically connect and authorize with any terms they set up for their network if it looks right.

How Can I Avoid This?

The best way to prevent this is to use a virtual private network or VPN. It’s basically like using your own encrypted tunnel through the internet so nobody can see what you’re doing when you connect to their unsecured WiFi connection.

3. Session Hijacking

You’re also at risk of session hijacking when you use public WiFi. This is where someone else on the same network can take over your active web session and access any information you’re viewing or typing in. They could also steal your login credentials if you’re not careful.

How Can I Avoid This?

You can’t always prevent someone from hijacking your session, but you can minimize the risk. Just make sure you close your web browser when you’re not using it so nobody can access the information stored in its memory.

If possible, use a virtual private network or VPN to connect to an unsecured WiFi connection. A VPN will encrypt all of your traffic and keep it safe from prying eyes.

Also, make sure to use strong passwords and two-factor authentication whenever possible. These measures will make it more difficult for someone to hijack your session or steal your login credentials.

Finally, turn off WiFi when you don’t need it. Even when you’re not actively using a WiFi connection, it can be broadcasting information that could be used to track your web use.

4. Malware Distribution

Another common risk you expose yourself to when using an insecure WiFi connection is malware distribution. You’re at risk of malware in the form of:

  • Trojan horses
  • Worms
  • Adware
  • Viruses
  • Ransomware

Hackers can plant malware into a WiFi network and cause it to download onto any device that connects automatically. In fact, some malware is designed specifically for this purpose. Using an insecure connection can leave you open to having your passwords stolen or being held ransom by ransomware.

How Can I Avoid This?

The best way to avoid the risks of malware distribution is to ensure your anti-malware and firewall are protected. This will go a long way in protecting you from cyber attacks since VPN doesn’t protect you from malware.

But if you can help it, I’d strongly advise against using public WiFi. There’s no way to know what kind of security measures the business has taken, and, at this point, it is not required by law that they take any steps whatsoever.

Source: Kaspersky and Defending Digital

5. Cyber Attacks on Businesses

Business travellers and small business owners who use their devices in public and unsecured WiFi networks are particularly vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Even with security measures in place, it is effortless for hackers to steal sensitive information from your laptop or smartphone.

How Can I Avoid This?

You can prevent these cyber-attacks with a proper VPN connection, which encrypts all the data flowing in and out of your device. This way, not even your ISP will know what you are doing online.

2-Factor authentication is also an excellent way to protect your online accounts, as it requires an extra verification step (usually a code sent to your phone) to log in.

Also, be sure to keep all of your software up-to-date, as many recent cyber-attacks have taken advantage of vulnerabilities in outdated programs.

Wrapping Up

I understand the joy of using free WiFi all too well. You don’t have to worry about data limits, and you can get online anywhere. But it’s essential to be aware of the risks involved in using unsecured WiFi networks and take steps to protect yourself. Follow these tips, and you’ll be able to stay safe while surfing the web on public WiFi.

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