Three Dangers of Free Wi-Fi

Three Dangers of Free Wi-Fi

According to a recent study, at least 75% of travellers prioritise hotels offering free Wi-Fi when considering their stay. This figure highlights a new reality where internet access is chosen over landline telephone or a complimentary breakfast. Particularly for travelling professionals, free Wi-Fi is not always a bonus but a necessity for some.

The rise of work from home employees has also greatly contributed to this want. In fact, remote workers now prefer to go to public spaces for their 9-5, with one in four (23%) people working from cafes.

It’s clear our growing love for technology has spawned a culture of free W-iFi access in libraries, coffee shops, hotels, airports, and other public places. But while everyone loves the word ‘free,’ there are some dangers associated with unsecured, open access Wi-Fi. So, here we’ll discuss the three key dangers of free Wi-Fi and suggest a few ways your employees can work more securely on the go.

Three Dangers of Free Wi-Fi

Your personal information can be stolen

As opposed to your private home network which implements security protocols like WPA2, free public Wi-Fi is unsecured. In simple terms, public Wi-Fi networks often lack proper security measures which defends your device’s data from reaching hackers. This means when you connect to your local coffee shop Wi-Fi, you’re accepting the risk of your data being on show for anyone to grab.

So, while you’re following your normal routine, your work files or personal data could be unknowingly stolen. By simply connecting to the same network, hackers can easily intercept your data, such as through packet sniffing. This is where attackers analyse often unencrypted data packets travelling to an unsecured network. As a result, any sensitive information related to credit card details, bank account, logins or passwords can be accessed.

SSL encryption

Even on encrypted networks, it is important to ensure Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption to protect data. Before you connect to free Wi-Fi, enable SSL in your device settings. You should also only access sites with an SSL certificate. To do this check if the website URL has HTTPS at the start – the ‘S’ indicates an SSL certificate. For further information on the site’s certificate, click on the padlock on the address bar.

Fake hotspots signal trouble

Unfortunately, many people are simply not aware of the dangers of connecting to open, easy, and free access Wi-Fi. Even professionals in their day-to-day will not stop to check if a free hotspot is malicious. Most people may not even know how to ensure the Wi-Fi they are using is safe. Therefore, hackers may also lure users with fake hotspots.

Once you log in to the fake Wi-Fi hotspot, hackers can plant vicious malware into your device or access your personal data and files. Furthermore, if you are working from a business that has free Wi-Fi, your company information could also be exposed.

Enable “always use HTTPS”

One way to mitigate a breach is to enable the option of “always use HTTPS” on frequently visited websites. This is particularly important if you log in for your work by entering credentials. Again, this will ensure your device’s browsing is secured as you’ll only be accessing sites with SSL encryption.

If you are not sure how to secure your data with SSL, reach out to your IT support London provider for further guidance.

Your personal data is needed to access Wi-Fi

Many free Wi-Fi networks will require you to enter personal details before providing access. In exchange for free Wi-Fi, whoever is providing it can collect, analyse, or store your personal data. Essentially, every time you connect, permissions allow the provider to track your location and monitor your activity. This can become a slippery slope if hackers were to intercept the open Wi-Fi, as your personal details are available to steal.

Although new data privacy laws are in place, many people do not understand how their data is being used. And, for most people it is too time consuming to read and make sense of the Wi-Fi’s privacy policy. So, when faced with the convenience of a free hotspot, users won’t think twice than to give up their details and connect.

Avoid entering sensitive data over public Wi-Fi

As a rule, it is dangerous to enter any kind of secure information over a public network. This could include accessing your bank account, entering account passwords, or bank details. For example, online shopping over public Wi-Fi could significantly increase the risk of a Man-in-the-Middle attack (MITM). In this instance, the user believes they are making a secure payment, but the MITM (a third-party attacker) can access the user’s sensitive bank details without their knowledge.

In the case of businesses, it can get complicated to resolve this risk. Understandably, it can be a pressing need for remote employees to access Wi-Fi networks to do their jobs. Nevertheless, their company’s data is at a much higher risk if they use a public network.

Safer alternatives to get internet access

Use a VPN

If you are a frequent user of public networks, configuring a virtual private network (VPN) is a safer option. A VPN works by enabling a secure connection over the internet to another network. To ensure greater security and total peace of mind, go to your VPN settings and select allow automatic connection. This will automatically configure your VPN and hide your IP address every time you start browsing.

VPNs are useful for shielding browsing activity from hackers and accessing region-restricted websites on public networks. Most employers with remote teams will provide VPN network access for on-the-go work.

Do not select Wi-Fi auto connect

When searching for accessible Wi-Fi on your mobile, you should refrain from selecting auto-connect to free Wi-Fi. While it is handy for your private, secure home network, it can allow your device to connect to unsecure, or even harmful networks. The same goes for default auto-connect settings. Also, ensure you click ‘forget network’ when disconnecting from a public, unsecured network.

Regularly change your passwords

Consider the key cyber awareness tactics you may have learnt in your organisation such as regularly changing passwords. If you are prompted to set up an account to access a secured public Wi-Fi, ensure you don’t reuse or copy a work password. Where applicable, enable multi-factor authentication for account access to protect sensitive data.

Get an unlimited data plan

Another way to avoid using free WiFi is to opt for an unlimited data plan with your mobile provider. This can allow you to create a personal hotspot as a safer alternative to unsecure WiFi. Although it can be costly, there is much less risk of your personal data being hacked.

At totality services, we provide robust cybersecurity services to help support your employees in the day to day. If you would like to learn more about the support available for your business’ remote workers, or simply have questions about network security, please feel free to contact our team today!