Security 101 12-11-2015

Dangers of Connecting to Public Wi-Fi

Katie Macdonald

In today’s world, free public Wi-Fi is commonplace, available in places varying from restaurants to beaches to subway stations. Passwords are frequently unnecessary—merely connect your smart device and use away.

Unfortunately, while public Wi-Fi provides convenience and free browsing without dipping into data, it also gives cybercriminals easy access to personal files and information. The Wi-Fi-plentiful ecosystem in which society operates is conducive to attackers who would set up rogue or malicious Wi-Fi hotspots in order to monitor internet communications via man-in-the-middle attacks to pilfer login credentials, infect users with malware, and perform other malicious actions.

As these hotspots or unsecure Wi-Fi connections can be found virtually anywhere, it is increasingly important for smartphone users to be aware that their device could be compromised in every situation.

Hackers Can Spring Traps Anywhere

Wi-Fi networks in public places are usually under-protected due to unsophisticated encryption protocols, or total lack of encryption. In such cases, confidential information (e.g., passwords, credit card numbers, or instant messages) can be intercepted.

Since this makes any mobile device a treasure trove to cyber attackers, they are well aware of all of the places victims could be hacked unaware. This means that users and enterprises alike should give no location the benefit of the doubt. And yes, this even includes public restrooms.

In fact, Inc. conducted a survey about the numbers of people using their phones in the bathroom. A few notable findings included that 61% of people admit to using their mobile phones while going to the bathroom, 49% of people read text messages while in the bathroom, and 31% even stayed in the bathroom longer than necessary to finish activity on their phone.

Malicious hotspots are plotted to take advantage of smartphone users at any location, including the most unexpected places. These statistics help demonstrate that the majority of people bring their phones or devices literally everywhere. Many of these individuals also neglect the necessary security to protect this information.

How to Stay Safe When Connecting

Kapersky Lab did some research and discovered that more than half of respondents don’t use remote block or find-my-device features and that only a quarter of respondents were actively careful when they connected to public Wi-Fi.

Here are a few simple options to stay safe when connected to public Wi-Fi:

  1. Take note of open Wi-Fi networks that require no passwords and tread lightly.
  2. Check if devices connect automatically to unknown networks—if Wi-Fi is turned off when a device isn’t being used as its owner moves around from place to place, it will help protect private data.
  3. Do not open bank accounts or important services that use personal passwords when using public Wi-Fi.
  4. Consider using a virtual private network (VPN) to protect critical data, as it encrypts everything a smart device sends out.

For as ubiquitous as connectivity has become and how reliant the population is on being connected, one would think that individuals would demand security to keep up. Security awareness is vital for any smartphone users whose devices are connected to company data or keep sensitive files on Wi-Fi enabled devices, and for the average user who simply wants to keep private information secure.

Using simple preventive measures will help secure data against hackers, even those lying in wait in the neighboring bathroom stall.


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