Admit it, you get a little anxious when you aren’t plugged in. Don’t worry, you certainly aren’t alone! We are smack dab in the middle of the age of connectivity, with email, social media, video streaming and more at our fingertips or in our pockets at all times. Just a few decades after the invention of dial-up internet (for those of you who remember, connecting to the internet at this time was a very noisy process that meant you couldn’t use the phone), we have come so far as to be able to get online while on a plane flying 30,000 feet up, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
The technological advancements of the last few years have drastically changed the landscape of the typical workday for most Americans. Gone are the days of Monday through Friday, 8-5. Thanks to social media and better network connectivity than ever before, we are expected to be plugged in at all times, from inside the office and across the globe. Thankfully, public Wi-Fi makes that pretty easy.
You’ve seen the public Wi-Fi networks. They’re at your favorite airports, coffee shops, restaurants, even dog parks. They don’t require a password so you might not even think twice about connecting. You’ve got emails to send and finances to monitor. These networks are convenient and free, and are usually provided out of good intentions, but they carry with them quite a bit of risk. Read on to learn about the dangers of public Wi-Fi, and what you can do to protect yourself.
This kind of online attack is exactly what it sounds like: a cyber attacker gets in between you (well, your computer) and whatever entity you are trying to communicate with, all without your knowledge. Doesn’t sound that awful? Think about every time you check your bank accounts online, or pay bills, or open confidential work documents on your laptop in your favorite coffee shop. Man-in-the-Middle attacks prey on interactions such as these in order to obtain your credentials and personal information. In these instances, attackers scan routers looking for vulnerabilities in a network, such as a weak password. As public Wi-Fi networks do not require passwords, this leaves them susceptible to this kind of attack.
Pro-tip: Do yourself a favor and don’t ever logon to networks that aren’t password protected. It is the easiest way to protect yourself and your information.
Cybersecurity giant Norton defines encryption as “the process of helping protect personal data by using a ‘secret code’ to scramble it so that it cannot be read by anyone who doesn’t have the code key.” When you are using a secured network, chances are your information is in fact sent in that secret code and your intended recipient is the only one with the key to decipher it. Public Wi-Fi networks are often not properly secured, as their default router settings are not to encrypt. As it is likely that you or your favorite IT professional did not set up whatever public network you are using, there is no way for you to know whether that specific network is encrypted or unencrypted.
Pro-tip: Make sure to only visit sites with the HTTPS security badge. This is easy to spot as it is located directly to the left of your website URL.
Unsafe mobile apps
CNN released a study in 2014 reporting that mobile app usage officially surpassed PC internet usage in the United States. This, keeping in mind the rapid development from 2G to 3G to 4G and beyond, comes as no surprise to most people. However, most mobile apps do not have the same security standards that regular network websites have. If you’re initiating a sensitive transaction that involves your personal information like opening your preferred banking app, doing so on a public Wi-Fi network makes you vulnerable to an attack.
Pro-tip: Instead of sending or receiving your confidential information through mobile apps, open your mobile browser on your phone, use your data and log in that way (once you have ensured it is using HTTPS.)
With Wi-Fi, the world is your office. However, public Wi-Fi can do more harm than good if you aren’t protecting yourself and your information from cyber-attacks.
Check out the rest of the Secure360 blog to find out what else there is to learn. Have some pointers on how to stay safe with public Wi-Fi? Leave your ideas in the comments below!