Students often find themselves browsing the internet on their mobile devices or laptops from public utility spaces such as libraries, cafeterias, airports, lounges, and clubs. Open Wi-Fi hotspots do a great service to students who have limited funds to purchase unlimited data packets. However, they also pose great security threats and make users vulnerable to attacks unless care is taken to avoid these mishaps. The temptation to go online and do some work, get free downloads, or check your email on-the-go might be too alluring. However, don’t let your privacy and safety be compromised.
How Does Open Wi-Fi Compromise Your Security?
There are different ways through which your security can be breached on public or open Wi-Fi. Usually, the hotspot will require an authentication login and password; however, this doesn’t necessarily translate to improved security. Most public Wi-Fi hotspots aren’t secured. A few possibilities are mentioned below:
- That the Wi-Fi hotspot is running an older encryption or authentication protocol.
- That you have joined a rogue or false Wi-Fi hotspot masquerading as a trustable source.
- That packet interference is being implemented through Man-In-The-Middle (MITM) attacks.
In the case of a rogue public network, even an average hacker could create a ‘copycat’ of an authentic Wi-Fi network. A user could then log-on to this fake network and have sensitive information such as passwords and login credentials phished. Even if the user doesn’t share login information, the hacker could still see every packet of information moving through the user’s set-up network.
How does the phishing occur exactly? Let’s say a hacker with malicious intent can get you to log-in to their bogus hotspot. They would then create a copy of some of the websites you are likely to frequent, for example, Amazon or Reddit. If you were to process a payment or share sensitive information across such phishing links, a decent hacker would be able to view all your sensitive information. They’d even go as far as seeing your keystrokes.
So, it isn’t implausible that you could lose a lot more than just your passwords or user login details from an unsecured hotspot. Your identity could be used to commit fraud and other cybercrimes while you are oblivious to what is happening. Students are often soft targets because they are often in a rush to use up as much free bandwidth as possible in a short space of time.
Before jumping onto that hotspot in your favorite café, library, or coffee shop to complete, say, a payment to your essay writing service, use these 5 hacks to keep yourself safe.
1. Use a VPN
Data packets on a free Wi-Fi network are almost just “floating” around, with anyone being able to tune into these unsecured radio signals. A Wi-Fi hotspot in “monitor” mode can essentially view all the data sent or received even without a connection necessarily being made.
A Virtual Private Network essentially tunnels information from the end-user to the internet (or vice-versa) through an encrypted connection before terminating the sequence. A VPN is an extremely important component of using the internet over public Wi-Fi, especially when you need to handle transactions. For such sensitive sites such as e-Bay, Amazon, or PayPal, a VPN hides the end IP address so that the details are near-impossible to trace.
VPNs can be free and web-based or paid apps that can be installed. NordVPN and Express VPN are some of the best applications available. When choosing a VPN, you have to consider the overall cost, speed, ease-of-use, and customer reviews, among other factors.
2. Never Access Sensitive Sites Without “HTTPS”
A lot of the information you might want to access from the internet might not be sensitive. However, any site that requires a login credential should have the ‘lock’ icon on the left side of the URL bar. Unless it’s really important, for example, a late payment, you should always avoid accessing such sites from a public hotspot. This ‘lock’ icon denotes that the site is encrypted.
Many sites implement HTTPS security for the login and payment screens, yet these sites still have internal access points that aren’t necessarily secure. A case-in-point would be a website that runs different server information meaning different servers are accessed from the same website; if you can avoid using such sites from public Wi-Fi, the better for you.
3. Protect Your Passwords
Passwords can be protected by adding an extra security layer through 2-factor authentication, an extra login test that ensures password breaches aren’t successful. This could be a code sent to your email or phone number, for example.
Additionally, you can protect your passwords by using a password manager to avoid potential reuse of the same password or nearly-identical instances for different sites.
The easiest way to keep safe over public Wi-Fi is to avoid visiting sensitive sites when using these public hotspots simply.