How to Stay Safe on Free Wi-FiMarch 1, 2019

March 1, 2019

How to Stay Safe on Free Wi-Fi

JWarner,Jack-column-1-Smack Warner is an accomplished cybersecurity expert with years of experience under his belt at TechWarn, a trusted digital agency to world-class cybersecurity companies. A passionate digital safety advocate, Jack frequently contributes to tech blogs and digital media by sharing expert insights on topics such as whistle-blowing and cybersecurity tools.

Corporate professionals who are frequent travelers must be well acquainted with free public Wi-Fi at airports and elsewhere, but many might not be aware of the cybersecurity risks of free Wi-Fi on both the individual and the company’s confidential communication.

Cybersecurity risks you’ve repeatedly overlooked

Before connecting to most public Wi-Fi networks, you are usually required to agree to some terms and conditions. That is the only hurdle to overcome before connecting, so most tend to ignore it in all eagerness to get online.

However, if you had taken the time to glance through a couple of sentences, you will understand why your data might not be secure once you’re logged in. In fact, the owners know their connections may be wildly unsafe and try to warn you so they are not held responsible for whatever happens afterward.

You don’t have to take my word for it. We can pick a few examples of businesses offering free Wi-Fi to the public and review their policies.

Starting with Suddenlink, they state of their Wi-Fi zones in the U.S. that ‘You acknowledge that the [Wi-Fi] service is inherently not secure and that wireless communications can be intercepted by equipment and software designed for that purpose.’

If that is not explicit enough, consider what Tim Hortons — the revered coffee chain from Canada — says. For one reason or the other, they state that ‘Your messages may be the subject of unauthorized third-party interception and review.’

Matters are not even helped when we move on to the likes of Arqiva. You should note this is a company dedicated to fitting the lounges of airports with a Wi-Fi network and would be expected to have the best tech in the game. Surprisingly, they admit that ‘the transmission of information via the internet and via the service is not secure.’

I can go on and on, but I believe you get the idea already. Even if every other bit of data I provide might not convince you, hearing it from the providers should set some bells ringing.

Network operators want to strip you bare

As if all of the above is no reason for worry already, another threat comes in the form of the network operators. Apparently, you could still be susceptible to internet privacy breaches even if the network was tightened against external attacks.

Again, the companies that give their customers free Wi-Fi don’t hide this. It is yet another common feature in their terms and agreements.

The U.S. District Court of Puerto says of its Wi-Fi network that ‘all communications over the [Wi-Fi] service may be subject to monitoring and should not be considered either private or protected.’ Coming from a court of law, isn’t that rather ironic?

Little wonder then that other firms can do the same. After all, Virgin Media holds the right ‘to monitor and control data volume’ while the guys over at the Oscars can also ‘monitor and collect information while you are connected to the [Wi-Fi] service.’

Possible attacks on public Wi-Fi

If you have not already started picking up on it, the biggest problem with using free public Wi-Fi connections is data leak. How does this happen?

  • Man in the middle attacks

Experienced hackers can place themselves between two sides of a conversation. This allows them to intercept the messages being sent and received. They will also be able to hijack the conversation at any point, pose as either side and extract sensitive information.

  • Rogue networks

Hackers may also set up rogue networks that will look legit and offer free connection to interested users. Once those users connect, they will be at the mercy of such a hacker who would now be able to access all of their activity.

This grants the hacker access to bank logins, forum passwords, sensitive data, emails and so much more.

  • Malware attacks

Due to a lack of encryption on public Wi-Fi networks, hackers can freely upload malware to the server.

Everyone who connects to such a network faces the risk of downloading the malware to their computer units. This holds so much more significance since the hacker would still be able to maintain remote access to the computer  — through the malware — even after the user has disconnected from the network.

How you protect yourself better

There isn’t supposed to be any harm in just being able to enjoy your free Wi-Fi connection in peace. With a number of unscrupulous individuals hunting your sensitive data though, that is not the case.

The ideal thing to do would be to stick to your own data plans and do away with the free Wi-Fi in the first place. If that is not an option, getting a quality VPN would be the recommended line of action.

A VPN will allow you to connect like always. The difference is that you would be using a different server to send hackers on the wrong trail. That is not to mention being able to better mask data you send over the otherwise insecure network.

In addition to that, you also get to access content that might have been blocked on the Wi-Fi network.

With such procedures in place, you can keep enjoying your coffee shop freebie without having to worry about losing your bank login details or some other important data — to some snooper. C&IT

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