How to use public Wi-Fi safely
They are everywhere! And no, I'm not talking about aliens, but about open hotspots: Wi-Fi networks that offer free Internet access to anyone. You'd be tempted to say that this is a great thing, but it's actually not! There are several crucial reasons why you should never connect to a public hotspot. Let's dive in, shall we?
Hackers purchase, and sometimes even build high-gain antennas like this, which can be connected to regular smartphones using SMA adapters with cables like these, and then are able to intercept public network traffic from miles away. Read this article to discover the key dangers that arise from using open hotspots. And if you still want to connect to free Wi-Fi, I will also share a few methods that will help you keep your data private.
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Most public hotspot users will utilize their phones to check the weather, read some news or post a few social media updates. So, the perceived risk is minimal. I keep hearing this question: "what could they get from me? I don't have any valuable data on my phone!".
If you think this way, you are not alone. Many politicians, journalists and even business owners are in the same boat, ignoring the huge risks they're exposing themselves to. People take their work laptops to coffee shops, for example. Then, they log into Facebook to see what's new, but they have forgotten that the laptop shares the "work" folder with any person that's connected to the same network. This isn't the problem if you're at work, of course, but if you're in a coffee shop, your network consists of all the devices that have been connected to its open hotspot.
To make things even worse, smart phones, tablets and laptops may connect to the Wi-Fi networks nearby without even asking you about it. Hackers use this feature to build evil twin networks, which have legit looking names, but were built for the sole purpose of gathering people's user names and passwords.
Many people are lazy, at least when it comes to picking and using a good password for each account. So yes, you may not lose that much if someone finds out your Facebook password, but if you're using the same set of characters as the pass for your bank account, the villains will get access to it as well. If you are a celebrity, people may get access to your private documents and photos, share them with the entire world, and thus ruin your reputation.
I think I've given you plenty of reasons why you should avoid public hotspots. It's always a much better idea to use your own Internet connection, even if this means that you will have to utilize your smart phone as a private hotspot.
However, if you still want to use an open Wi-Fi network, there are several things that you should pay attention to. First, ensure that the hotspots you want to connect to are protected by passwords. It's easy to recognize these networks, because they've got a lock symbol next to their name.
Then, determine the encryption protocol that each network is using. Always choose networks that utilize the WPA2 protocol. It's the only protocol that's safe enough to guarantee the integrity of your data.
Security experts recommend using a VPN, a virtual private network. It's an application that can be installed on your mobile device, and then is able to create a virtual tunnel through which data flows from source to destination and back, without allowing anyone to intercept it along the way.
All sounds well, at least in theory, but the truth is that the VPN provider can have access to your data. Still, I'd rather trust a reputable virtual private network provider, rather than expose my private data whenever I connect to a public hotspot.
Don't forget to minimize the number of applications that can exchange data on the Internet before connecting to free Wi-Fi. It will be really easy for a hacker to intercept and decode data packets that flow to URLs which aren't protected by the HTTPS security protocol. Often times, poorly coded apps will use the older HTTP security protocol.
So, disable and even uninstall the programs that aren't needed in the coffee shop. You can reinstall them later on, in case that you need them badly.
This is pretty much it when it comes to using free hotspots. The risks are quite big, but now that you know them, you should be able to take an educated decision.