To access the internet (the World Wide Web) all devices require an internet connection of some sort. This internet connection can be either wired or wireless today. The internet is connected via a modem or router, which are similar but slightly different routing boxes that ingest the internet signal coming from a main switching box on the street that, for instance, part of a neighborhood connects to. A router (which is most often a wireless router with ethernet ports these days) is what processes and drives the internet (DSL) signal to devices such as smartphones, desktop computers, laptops, and other smart devices. If you use a router at home, this is what is called a private network. If a business uses a router or multiple routers, the setup is quite different. The third variant is a public network, to which everyone can connect either directly or via a login page, or a proprietary password. The latter can be an entirely open connection on the street (like municipal internet) or the WiFi of a restaurant, cafe, library, etc. As far as safety goes, private networks are not networks that everyone can connect to. For this reason, mass public wifi can be dangerous in several ways if you decide to connect to it.
You may be connecting to WiFi simply to send a message via WhatsApp to your family or friends, or for instance to buy something online while waiting at the airport. Whatever the case may be, you must understand that public WiFi is not controlled or monitored by you, and as such your devices and your data can be compromised over these types of networks. This is particularly possible if the network is an unsecured, open network. For this reason, you will find the information below insightful, and you will need to download a special cybersecurity tool for optimum security.
What Dangers Lie on Public WiFi
As we covered above, the real danger lies with an open WiFi network that is not encrypted or secured with a password. This is a network that anyone with a few free hacking tools can manipulate to intercept the connection of users connected to it without their knowledge. On the other hand, a more secure network that isn’t as public, like one in a small restaurant or care, is not completely safe either. It is simple for anyone to ask for the password to such internet connections, and small establishments usually do not change their passwords that often so that people can connect with ease and the staff does not have to give out WiFi passwords all the time.
Several things can happen to a network everyone knows the password to or one that is completely unsecured. Some of these issues include intercept attacks such as MiTM or Man in The Middle attacks, Network Snooping, distribution of malware, or the WiFi hotspot could be rigged from the get-go. Hackers know that everyone from wealthy high-profile business travelers to students and journalists connects to public WiFI at some point. It is quite rare that someone is so careful that he or she exclusively uses their private mobile data instead of a WiFi network. The question is then, what are hackers after? As we said, most people connect to public WiFi at some point. It is sufficient for a hacker to be sitting around there incognito on a laptop and quietly intercepting people’s internet traffic. A hacker could also place a hardware module to the public router if they can find it, and reroute all of the traffic to their server at home or elsewhere. Not only that, but a hacker could intercept people’s data sitting in a place far away.
All of us conduct some form of online shopping, accessing email accounts, financial accounts, or medical accounts (to name a few) online. Imagine if someone were able to intercept your username and password to your bank account because you did not have proper internet best practices in place? Or, if someone began scamming you or stole your identity based on bits and pieces of intercepted information? This is a real cause for concern, and happens all the time, unfortunately.
How to Stay Safe on Public WiFi
To avoid someone intercepting or snooping on your internet connections while you are connected to public WiFi, the good news is that there are a few things that will shut the door on any malicious hackers trying to spy on you or sabotage you. The important thing here is to disassociate your IP address from the internet connection in question as well as obfuscate your location while remaining encrypted. This can easily be done by connecting to a premium VPN service. A VPN will cloak your device no matter what sort of internet connection you are on, and hackers will have nothing but a blank slate to look at because you are AES 256-bit encrypted with most premium VPNs. They also won’t be able to tell where you are located.
Secondly, what you could do is opt for your private mobile data when on-the-go, and apply a VPN to that as well. This both avoids the public connection and adds an extra layer of security on top of that. What is necessary for you to understand is that people are looking for easy ways to make money, most of the time. Quietly intercepting your WiFi and grabbing your bank account’s username and password is one way to do this. Sometimes, WiFi hotspots can be cloned by a hacker. This means that the moment you connect, the hacker can even gain access to your smartphone, computer, tablet, or other devices. For these reasons it is recommended that you sign up with premium VPN services such as NordVPN, Surfshark, Cyberghost, or other similar services that are trusted, verified, and do not log data. Do not forget to activate your killswitch mechanism found in the VPN app’s settings that will cut your internet connection if it disconnects from the VPN server.