Are Public Wi-Fi Networks Safe?

Dangers of Wi-Fi hot spots
Avoid Open WiFi Security Risks

What Can You Do To Protect Yourself

Updated: July 27, 2023
By: RSH Web Editorial Staff

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Public Wi-Fi

The Security Risks of Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi is undoubtedly what almost everyone today uses at one time or another. But you need to understand the risks with this.

Drinking your coffee at the local coffee shop, when you just logged on to the local Wi-Fi with your laptop or mobile device and are surfing the web. But are you aware of how vulnerable you are when you are at your favorite Wi-Fi hotspot?

A 7-year-old girl hacked a Wi-Fi hot-spot in a South London coffee shop. In about 10 minutes after watching a YouTube tutorial to showed how easy it is to hack unprotected public Wi-Fi hotspot. Just by using information and techniques readily available on the Internet.

Most all Wi-Fi networks that are for home and business uses are password protected and encrypted. However, most public Wi-Fi hotspots are set up strictly for convenience - Not security.

Wi-Fi users are always at risk from hackers, but there are safeguards to protect against them. Since these free access points are available at restaurants, hotels, airports, bookstores, and even your local gas station, you are rarely more than a short trip away from access the World Wide Web. But this freedom comes at a price, and most do not understand the risks associated with Public Wi-Fi. Learning how to protect yourself will ensure you and your important information remains safe.

One of the biggest threats for free Wi-Fi is the ability for the hacker to position himself between you and the connection point. So instead of talking directly with the hotspot, you're sending your information to the hacker, who then relays it on. The hacker now has access to all the information such as important emails, credit card information and even security credentials to your business network. Once the hacker has your information, they can access your system(s) as if they were you.

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Risks of Using Unsecured Wi-Fi

There are many risks when using an unsecured or public Wi-Fi network. Even when the network in question is a Secure public Wi-Fi, if all you need to do is ask one of the employees for the password, then anyone who wants access will have it. What is even worse, many networks will leave their Wi-Fi settings open, allowing anyone who is connected to gain Admin access to the router. Once within the network, there are many ways for cybercriminals to take advantage. One very popular way is with what they call “Man-in-the-Middle” attack. Another common avenue of attack on public Wi-Fi networks is known as Malware Injection.

Hackers will also use unsecured Wi-Fi's to distribute malware. If you have enabled "file-sharing" across your network, the hacker can then plant infected software called Phishing on your computer and on your network. Many hackers have even hacked the "connection point" directly, causing a "pop-up" window to appear during the connection process. Sometimes these Pop-Ups will offer an upgrade to a piece of popular software. Clicking this then installs the malware.

Mobile Wi-Fi is no doubt becoming the most common form of Internet access and because of this you can expect Internet security issues and public Wi-Fi risks to also grow. Do not let this scare you into going back to your Desk Top computer, the vast majority of hackers are simply going after the easiest targets, and taking a few precautions will help to keep your information safe.

Use a VPN

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection should be a priority when connecting to your business through an unsecured connection such as a public Wi-Fi. This way, if a hacker manages to gain access in between you and your connection, the data here will be Strongly Encrypted. And since most all hackers would rather go after an easy target than put it through a lengthy decryption process. Also see Should I use a VPN while traveling
The only VPN that RSH Web Services trust, use, and would recommend is NordVPN.

Use SSL Connections

You may not always have a VPN available for general Internet browsing, by enabling the "Always Use HTTPS" option on websites that you visit frequently, adds a layer of encryption to your communication.

Enable "Always Use HTTPS" setting in Gmail
Force Google Chrome to always use HTTPS
SSL Enforcer - Force SSL/TLS encryption for any browser or app.

Hackers understand how people use, and most times reuse their passwords, So that the user-name and password you use for some random website may just be the same one you use for your Bank or Corporate Network, and using these credentials could open that door for a smart hacker.


Treat all Wi-Fi with Suspicion

There are just plan bad Wi-Fi networks that have been set up by a cybercriminal. They have a connection name that is very similar to the public Wi-Fi's name, but it is controlled by the hackers. If in doubt, ask an employee at the location that is providing the public Wi-Fi connection about their access point, the connection's name and even the IP address. Be Safe. Question everything. And do not connect to an unknown or unrecognized wireless access point.

Turn Off "Sharing"

When connecting to the Internet at a public place, you are probably not going to share anything. You can turn off sharing from within the system preferences or Control Panel, depending on your OS.

Turn Off Network Sharing on Windows
Turn Network Sharing on or off in Windows 8
Turn off file sharing on Windows7
Leave Family Sharing - Apple Support.

Use a Unique SSID

Your Android and iPhone device automatically assigns a default SSID "Service Set Identifier" name to your hotspot. These wireless Network names are easy to guess, especially because cybercriminals understand how precomputed names are generated and the Pass-phrases that go with such names. Before logging onto a network in a public setting. First renamed your SSID to a name that only you understand its meaning and origin.

Keep Wi-Fi Turned Off When Not In Use

The Wi-Fi hardware in your computer is still transmitting data between any network within range when it is "On". There are security measures in place to prevent this type of communication from compromising you, but keep in mind, not all wireless routers are the same. As a general rule, you should keep your Wi-Fi turned off when not being used. And you will probably have a much longer battery life.

Always Stay Protected

Even those who will take all the possible public Wi-Fi security precautions will come across issues. It is just a fact of life. That is why it is so important to keep an up-to-date Internet Security Solution installed and running. The top consumer security software will also offer business protection solutions, so you can protect yourself and your business at the same time.

There will be a time when an unsecured, free, public Wi-Fi is the only connection available, But understanding the risks of public Wi-Fi will help you to ensure that you and your information will not become just another hacking statistic.

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