Today, Internet usage has been quite vast with the number of Internet users and their data is blooming at a tremendous rate. This increased amount of data has attracted hackers and other bad players to steal away the user-critical data. With the advent of hackers on the Internet domain, it has no longer remained a safe place.
The number of public Wi-Fi is directly co-related to the increased number of Internet users and we can find public Wi-Fi present at places such as- hotels, malls, airports, etc. Internet users often leverage these open networks to stay ‘connected’ with the Internet world without realizing its consequences. Once the user gets connected to the Internet using public Wi-Fi, he automatically enhances the risk of spying and spoofing of his critical data. All the user data is now made easily accessible to hackers.
Most of the users undermine the fact that public Wi-Fi is not a secure option. Although it asks for a password for connecting to the network, it doesn’t ultimately ensure that the user activities are safe and secured. Using public Wi-Fi without deploying the right security mechanisms can result in online identity and monetary losses.
Risks Related to Public Wi-Fi
- In the case of public Wi-Fi, other users present on a server can easily have access to other users’ data. In the absence of appropriate security mechanisms, the user data gets easily transmitted on the network without in the form of a plain text having no encryption. The unencrypted data on the public Wi-Fi is now easily visible on the network and this can give hackers the chance to exploit the user data.
- Another risk involved in using public Wi-Fi is that hackers can spy on the user’s password as well as other critical data. The users must avoid using the same password across different sites; else, this might cause a big problem.
- The ultimate risk involved with using public Wi-Fi is that there are always chances of session hijacking. In the case of a session hijacking, the hacker continuously monitors the Wi-Fi traffic and tries to infiltrate into a user’s open session by stealing browser cookies that are used for recognized for users. Once the hacker gains access to such cookies, they enter the user websites or even take away the critical login credentials that are present inside the cookie.
How Hackers Use Public Wi-Fi
Following are the two possible ways in which the hackers leverage the public Wi-Fi setups for taking away user-critical data-
1. Hackers Also Connected on the Same Network
Any hacker’s ultimate aim is to remain connected to a network that has a vast user base, and hence, the public Wi-Fi network act as the potential target. Once the hacker arrives on the public Wi-Fi network, he starts deploying the malpractices for taking complete control of the data as well as communication that is taking place on this open network.
One of the common ways that hackers use public Wi-Fi for intercepting the user’s data present on the network is known as Man-in-the-Middle Attack. This attack proves to be extremely beneficial when the cyber attackers managed to successfully block the communication taking place between clients or even users present on the public Wi-Fi. The hacker manages to successfully capture all the incoming and outgoing data of the network.
Another risk in this method is that hackers can share files. In case, the user has enabled file-sharing options at the time of getting connected on the network, and the hacker can easily transmit corrupt and malicious files to the user.
2. Hackers Creating Fake Wi-Fi Hotspots
Hackers usually tend to create ‘’’honeypots’. Honeypots are generally Wi-Fi hotspots that might have been created by the hackers within an unassuming name. This often acts as bait as most of the users get connected to such Wi-Fi connection and hackers manage to successfully grab the data that the user sends on the network. Honeypots can be easily configured and set up with the help of any PDA that the hacker might use.
In such fake hotspots, hackers often tend to send out warnings related to system upgrades. This is just a hoax/false action deployed by hackers. Instead of upgrading the systems, hackers tend to install malware that can be used for broadcasting the user’s sensitive information.
Best Practices for Securing Data
If the user fails to avoid public Wi-Fi networks, then at least he can make sure that his data is well secured when the user uses a public Wi-Fi.
Following are some ways in which the user can remain secure at all times when using a public Wi-Fi-
1. Verifying the Network and Disabling Sharing Options
The user, when connecting to a public Wi-Fi, needs to carefully read the network name and always ask someone from the business side, regarding the legitimacy of the shared link.
Users must also enquire about the IP address of the network device. As stated in the previous sections, hackers can establish fake networks, so the users need to verify the network name.
Also, whenever connecting to public Wi-Fi, the users must disable preferences as well as file sharing options such as Bluetooth. By keeping the file-sharing options enabled, it exposes the chances of hackers to infiltrate malware to the user devices. Secured mechanisms need to be deployed if the user is looking to transfer his files on a public network.
2. Using a VPN
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is the most secure way if the user wants to surf the net on a public network. VPN is the best option through which users can keep their information secure whenever they log in to public networks.
The benefit of using a VPN helps in encrypting the data traffic and serves as a secured tunnel between the client and the server. All the data passing through the channel remains invisible to hackers, thus, denying access to the user information as well as activities performed online. VPNs also mask the user’s IP address with its IP address that is being accessed from a virtually different location.
3. Using a Website Scanner
When the user is connected to a public network, there is a high risk that the user (business’s) website might get attacked by one or the form of vulnerabilities, threats, and malware. When the users deploy a website scanning tool, they can determine any upcoming threat on their websites and safeguard the critical data by securing their sites.
Businesses also ensure that their reputation stakes don’t fall apart and there is no loss of trust. Website scanning tools can be handy for users who’re more often connected to public Wi-Fi networks.
Only Visiting HTTPS Websites
If the user fails to have a VPN access, then the least he can do is just visit the sites that are encrypted and have an HTTPS header at the beginning of their URL. When the user visits such websites, the data gets protected from all kinds of threats that are persistent in the network domain.
HTTPS ensures that the connection established between the browser and web server is encrypted and data submitted on these sites are free from any kind of tampering.
Enabling Firewalls at All Times
With a firewall enabled on the user’s system, it can be extremely beneficial as firewalls deny any unauthorized access. It is essential to understand that a firewall might not give complete protection; however, it needs to be enabled at all times.
A firewall serves as the barrier, thereby protecting the user system from all kinds of malware and threats. It continuously monitors the incoming data packets from networks and evaluates their safety. If a malicious packet is present on the web, then the firewall blocks the packet, thereby safeguarding the user data from any malicious attacks.
On a concluding note, the users need to understand the significance of digital security. Also, the users need to make sure that they’re very well aware of the threats associated with public Wi-Fi and the possible ways to secure their crucial data.
The precautions and tips mentioned above can be easily deployed by any user to safeguard their vital information from getting attacked on a public network.