In a world driven by technology, the internet has become a staple in our daily lives. Tech Giants across the globe have invested billions of dollars to curate a network of devices that drives you to utilise their ease of usage and access through the power of the internet. This has led to a stark increase in the utilisation of heavy bandwidth and data across the globe, causing people to invest in broadband and fiber connections that offer strong reliable data at cheaper and more affordable costs. But your home Wi-Fi can't accompany you on your next trip out of the house. This results in you craving those sweet unlimited data packs while not shelling out the seemingly hefty prices of your limited mobile data plans. Thus, you give in to your cravings and indulge in a free public Wi-Fi hotspot nearby. But here is why that Wi-Fi toggle might cost you a lot more than you might think.
Public Wi-Fi's can be found in a number of locations, be it your nearby fast-food restaurant or even a transport hub like the railway station or the airport. These areas boast the lure of “Free Wi-Fi" but the cost of scouring your social media on these networks might be your privacy. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are often used as hunting grounds by attackers and hackers who can join into the same open Wi-Fi network you are enjoying and steal valuable private data that can pose imminent future problems.
- Man in the middle attacks
One of the most common examples of these attacks is known as “Man in the Middle attacks”. This is essentially a technique in which an attacker eavesdrops on your conversations between your device and the internet server by stealing the data between those two junctions. The most troubling aspect of these attacks are that these are undetectable to an untrained eye, and can prove deadly to your private log in details or even your bank account credentials.
- Malware Distribution attacks
Another major attack that is rampant in these cases is a Virus or Malware distribution attack, where a hacker can inject a backdoor to your phone or computer’s operating system and can trigger it whenever he/she desires, causing each and every personal data string on your device be subjected to being stolen or misused. This is deadlier than a “man in the middle” attack because once the virus is injected into your device, the hacker can exploit this backdoor even if you are not connected to the same public Wi-Fi network, making it easier for the attackers to steal vital information whenever they feel like it.
- Cyber stalking
Attackers can also utilise these free Wi-Fi zones as stalking areas whereby utilising special software and gadgets, they can see in real time each and every website you are accessing from the confines of your personal device. Almost every public hotspot remains unencrypted, and therefore attackers can even check messages or files you have sent while using the Wi-Fi network, and can accomplish additional crimes like identity theft and bank frauds easily and frequently without even running the risk of being traced or detected.
Analysing these aspects of attacks and exploits that are achievable just through an open Public Wi-Fi hotspot really puts into focus the value of privacy and good decision making in our daily lives. Just by indulging in a few minutes of online shopping or having a chat with a friend to pass some time, you are leaving yourself vulnerable at the mercy of hackers and attackers who won’t think twice before emptying your bank accounts and misusing your login credentials in a matter of seconds. Seems like a very hefty price to pay for a few minutes of free internet.
Tips and Tricks for prevention
Here are some methods through which you can better protect yourself from the atrocities of public Wi-Fi:-
a) If you are signing up for public Wi-Fi access, don't share your personal information and avoid accessing websites where you are required to enter any log-in or financial information such as your internet banking accounts or transactions on e-commerce sites.
b) Restrict hackers from accessing your files stored on your personal device through the open Wi-Fi network. You can do that by going to Network and Sharing Center on your PC, then Change advanced sharing settings and then Turn off file and printer sharing.
c) Using a VPN is one of the most effective tricks to secure yourself from a potential data leak as it encrypts the data accessed by your device and makes it harder for people on the network to track your activities.
d) Turn off “Auto-connect to WiFi networks” on your device to prevent your personal device to automatically connect to a nearby unsecure public WiFi hotspot.
e) Only visit credible sites using HTTPS (indicated by a lock sign in the address bar) as these are secure sites that use an added encryption to ensure that your data doesn't fall into the wrong hands.