Free Wi-Fi can be a huge blessing. It can take a huge sum off your data bill and is especially handy when you’re traveling in a foreign country. Many also swear by how free Wi-Fi network connections have been the saving grace when it came to making huge app updates on their devices and apps.
But when something is too good to be true, you best believe it is. In the case of free unlimited Wi-Fi, there are unsurmountable and potentially devastating dangers on unsecured networks, and we’re here to help you prepare for the inevitable and actually avoid it.
When on public Wi-Fi, your traffic is both unencrypted and accessible by other users on the same. What that means is anyone in your close proximity will be able to phish for your passwords and sensitive information as you send them through the network. It’s almost like you’re walking around naked in a glass room. Here we look at the different attacks and dangers you are exposed to unknowingly.
Man in the middle (MITM) attacks
When having a conversation with someone online, you do so with the trust that your messages are being sent to the recipient you have chosen. You also trust that any message being sent back to you is from the same recipient.
This inherent trust is what hackers leverage on to hijack your information.
In an approach dubbed man-in-the-middle, the hacker positions themselves in a cloud server which is between you and the recipient. Every message you send will have to pass through the hacker first, and every text you should receive will pass through them also.
That is not the only power they have over your messages though. They can go as far as manipulating the messages, making you see what they have sent rather than what you should have gotten from the recipient.
This becomes dangerous when the hacker gets access to sensitive information from your conversation. They can even get important information from you by pretending to be the other side.
Hotels, coffee shops, airport lounges, and other related spaces are usually fitted with free Wi-Fi networks.
Hackers know that internet users will usually want to take advantage of these networks when they are in such places. Thus, they set up rogue networks to fool unsuspecting users into connecting to the wrong Wi-Fi network instead.
Imagine a coffee shop running its free Wi-Fi under the connection name ‘COCO LOUNGE.’ An experienced hacker could create a rogue network named ‘C0C0 LOUNGE’ instead and make it free for all.
Of course, the names are not the same, but they do look that way.
For everyone that connects to that network, the hacker would function as their Internet Service Provider (ISP). If there is one thing ISPs can do, it is seeing what users are doing on a network. Abusing that power, the hacker literally owns all your data.
Upload of malicious software
Other experienced hackers will prefer to upload malicious software onto the free Wi-Fi network. Whenever a user connects, their computer/ phone/ tablet automatically downloads these pieces of code. With that, the hacker can do as they please.
This code can contain a virus which destroys the files and documents on your computer. It could be a bot that resides on the computer and harvests your data over time, even long after you’ve disconnected from the free Wi-Fi network.
In other cases, this could launch ransomware on your computer. No matter which way you look at it, no good can come out of such software.
Securing your connections
The truth is that these public Wi-Fi spaces won’t be securing their networks anytime soon. Doing so would mean losing the ‘free’ status, and they don’t want to do that.
You cannot complain to them about the problem too. If you would only take a close look at the policies you agree to before connecting to that network, you would see that they know of the impending problems and warn you of it too.
What to do, then? Get a Virtual Private Network (VPN) software.
A good VPN will counter any and all problems that could arise on free Wi-Fi networks. Given how a VPN tunnels your internet data through secure channels, no one would be able to see your conversations, talk less of hijacking them.
That effectively stems MITM attacks.
You will also enjoy the data privacy and security which VPNs provide. Rogue networks would have nothing on you since the ISP (hacker, in this case) won’t even see what you are doing in the first place. Couple that with how you can change your IP address to confuse the hacker, and you have a winner.
Besides using a VPN, other solutions exist. Some swear by changing your DNS while others suggest not using free Wi-Fi networks altogether.
If you are looking for the easiest way to enjoy the best of free Wi-Fi while not sacrificing your internet security though, grabbing a VPN does more wonders than you can imagine.