There are numerous dangers associated with using an unsecured WiFi hotspot, especially those found in coffee shops and other public areas. Don’t worry, though: By the end of this article, you will be able to comfortably connect to any public WiFi and use your laptop with no fear. Heck, you’ll even be able to laugh at the bad guy at the other end of the free coffee shop WiFi honeypot!
Why using public WiFi maybe risky
The major threat with free WiFi is the capability for hacker and bad guys to position themselves between you and your desired connection point. Therefore, instead of you interacting directly with the hotspot, you end up unknowingly sharing all your information. The hacker or criminal now has access to whatever you’ve done, whatever sites you’ve visited, everything, potentially including email, credit card details, contacts, business information, even passwords and account credentials. The list can be endless.
Despite multiple warnings and industry efforts to educate users, most people still don’t realize why connecting to public WiFi is dangerous, regardless of what you may be doing online. You may think that “well, I’m not logging into my personal accounts or reading email, I’m just checking the new games or sports scores” but anything you do on a public WiFi networks is insecure. Any data you share or access on these networks becomes vulnerable and can be monitored by other parties. That also includes programs like email programs or social media apps that run in the background without you ever checking them too. Once a hacker has your information, they can access your personal accounts at their leisure, and lock you out at the same time.
How can you be hacked?
It’s relaxing and enjoyable to take your laptop or mobile device to a local coffee shop, buy a cup of your preferred beverage and sit down to browse the Web. But whether the network has a password or not, are you really conscious of how exposed you’re when using that Wi-Fi hotspot? Most all public WiFi networks are designed and managed for convenience, not security. The goal is for customers to stick around and buy more products, whether or not they’re safe online or not.
You don’t even have to connect to the wrong open network to get in trouble either. Turns out that hackers can set up something called a “network honeypot” to tempt you to connect to it, not realizing you have not connected to the usual WiFi hotspot. Once you’re on their fake hotspot, it connects to the real Internet so you can’t tell anything is wrong, but they can hack your logins and passwords and sometimes even trick you to giving out more information.
The easiest solution is to use a Virtual Private Network or VPN, a program that creates a reliable, encrypted tunnel between your computer and the Internet. One example of a good VPN is NordVPN, and you can read more about it here. Sounds complicated, but it’s not. VPNs are actually quite easy to work with and smart users just leave them on all the time to ensure every connection is secure.
VPN definition and how it works
A VPN is a Virtual Private Network. VPN providers offer reliable protection for any Internet connection, even those when you physically plug in an Ethernet wire to get online. Your online activity is secured by the VPN because it encrypts (scrambles) your data when you connect and for the duration of your online session. As a nice bonus, it also masks your current location, gives you a different IP address and makes it much more difficult for ISPs and others to track your online activity. Using a VPN helps to secure you from public WiFi hackers too: Even if you connect through their honeypot, they can’t decrypt or read any of your information.
How to get a VPN
There are quite a few different VPN options on the market, some of which are very inexpensive, others that will cost you $5-$10 dollars/month for privacy and online security. Don’t want to pay at all? One interesting option is to check out the latest version of the Opera Web browser: It includes a built-in VPN service.
Your local coffee shop might seem like a safe and friendly place, but that open wifi network can still be a dangerous digital swamp. Protect yourself by utilizing a VPN and once you learn how to use it, you’ll be surprised that it never gets in the way and you’ll likely forget you even have it enabled. Meanwhile, though, it’ll be keeping you safe and secure. That VPN level encryption prevents any outside party from viewing the data you send and receive. Let’s face it too, most hackers are looking for an easy victim and once they realize that you’re using an encrypted connection, they will move to the next potential victim. Stay safe online, check out a VPN!