Using public WiFi hotspots has become so commonplace that “Is there WiFi here?” is often one of the first things you say when entering a new public space. What many don’t realize, however, is that our devices are perhaps at their most vulnerable when connected to a public hotspot.
This is because when you are on a public network, your device and traffic are very vulnerable to anyone who is in the same hotspot and the hotspot owner. In essence, this means that the websites that you visit and all unencrypted information that you send can be easily seen by anyone in same café or airport lounge, and should not be considered private.
You can tell if the website you visit is unencrypted if the address in your browser begins with http://. Websites that are more secure will be encrypted, and their addresses start with https://. When you surf to a website with an address like this, other people on the hotspot will not be able to read the data, as it will appear as scrambled gibberish to them. But this does not mean that visiting only encrypted websites makes you safe on a public hotspot. Even though content is gibberish, other users/hotspot owner may still see what site or service you’re accessing.
The nature of public WiFi networks makes it easy for hackers to steal the private data of those who are connected to them. We might think that a password-protected public network is secure, but if the password is available to anyone who asks, how could it possibly help your security? Even worse, a lot of WiFi hotspot threats do not even require the hacker to join the network!
A common trick that hackers use is called the Evil Twin. This trick does not involve a criminal joining the same network as you, it involves creating a malicious hotspot of their own. Consider this: When we join a public WiFi network, do we make sure that the network is what it says it is? If you see a hotspot with the name of a café or the words “FREE AIRPORT WIFI”, do you think twice about joining? Criminals can set up hotspots with innocent names using inexpensive, store-bought devices, and steal the data of everyone connecting to their so-called free WiFi.
Another very common hacking trick is called the man-in-the-middle attack. This involves a crimnal on the same hotspot inserting themselves between you and the rest of the internet and compromising your public WiFi security. This means that when you visit your favorite online shop or online bank, the hacker may instead trick you into connecting to a page that looks similar. You might think you are entering your username and password into a safe place, but are in fact feeding them straight to the hacker.
All the above methods are just different ways of getting to the same thing: your data. Criminals want to get their hands on your login credentials, your credit card details, and your banking info.
As a rule, remember that unless you’re connecting to an “https” site, anything you do over public WiFi is an easy target for snooping. Avoid conducting sensitive activities over public WiFi.
Set your device to forget previously used WiFi networks, or just turn WiFi off when you’re not using it. This will keep your device from automatically connect to WiFi networks that you’ve previously used when you’re not aware. As mentioned, when logging on to a new network, verify that it’s one you can trust.
If you want full security on public WiFi, secure your connection, and protect your traffic, a VPN is the way to go. A VPN will encrypt your connection end to end between your device and the VPN server, so your traffic can’t be spied on. The criminals on the network may see you’re connected to F-Secure FREEDOME and will understand to give up right there.
To encrypt all your traffic and keep you safe on public WiFi, a personal VPN such as F‑Secure FREEDOME is the easiest, most secure, and most versatile solution. FREEDOME uses VPN technology to make your traffic very difficult to intercept, while other features such as browsing protection block malicious websites from loading. Using F-Secure FREEDOME allows you the convenience of connecting to public WiFi, without the risk.