You sit down to enjoy a cup of coffee, whip out your laptop, connect to the coffee shop’s Wi-Fi service and start streaming those cute cat videos on YouTube again.
We don’t know about you, but this is the perfect morning for some. The best part is that all you had to pay for was your coffee, and you got to enjoy free Internet.
But have you considered what might be lurking on the unsecured network? There are silent dangers on free Wi-Fi that you are unknowingly exposed to once you’re connected.
This is not us trying to be a killjoy here. Public Wi-Fi networks have been around for a while now and have helped matters a lot. What you might not know is that they are also high-risk threat areas.
How Public Wi-Fi Networks Are Dangerous
Public networks are not secured, meaning that your data is sent through plain text for any other users on the same network to see, especially when you visit sites that are not ‘HTTPS’ but of the less secure protocol ‘HTTP’. Bystanders can see what websites you’re loading and what programs you’re running. It’s like walking around naked in a glass house, or broadcasting your private conversation.
Sometimes these bystanders can also see the contents of your activity. They know if you’re looking at anything that could potentially incriminate you — anything scandalous, unsavory, or political. And they can use this information against you.
Why is transparency dangerous? Here are some threats that can very likely affect you.
1. Wi-Fi sniffing and snooping
Hackers can listen around unsecured Internet networks with tools that allow them to hijack other users’ connections and gather sensitive information. The fact is that a lot of these tools are very inexpensive, costing under $50 in most cases. Called ‘sniffers,’ these tools will work against you since you are on the same unencrypted network as the hacker(s).
The damages that can be done by Wi-Fi sniffers and snoopers is unquantifiable. Hackers can obtain any and all information they wish to about you.
They can gain access to your social media and private accounts, allowing them to impersonate you across the Internet. With your identity, there is no telling how many people these hackers will exploit.
If that is subtle, consider the possibility of hackers securing your financial details. This could be in form of cryptocurrency wallet details, bank account information and so much more. It needs no telling that they won’t hesitate to empty out all your accounts and even put you in overdraft debt if possible.
2. Man in the Middle (MITM) attacks
In any communication, there has to be a sender and recipient. When connected to a public Wi-Fi network, the hacker can see you and the person you are communicating to. They can then place themselves in the middle of your conversation. That way, they intercept the messages you send and the ones sent to you.
On the interception, they can manipulate the message in part or wholly. You would be oblivious of the fact that you have now been tricked into another conversation. From there, you can be made to reveal sensitive information since you would think you were divulging such to a trusted source.
3 Rogue Wi-Fi networks
This is yet another technique that hackers employ to steal data from unsuspecting users.
They set up rogue networks which look like the real deal and you connect to unsuspectingly. For instance, a hacker could create a network named ‘0PEN HOUSE’ to fool Internet users who wanted to connect to ‘OPEN HOUSE ‘instead (observe the ‘O’ and ‘0’).
Since the hacker(s) is/ are the network owners, they will be able to see EVERYTHING that goes on within the network. This is an even easier way to capture ALL of your Internet data as opposed to all the other methods above.
Those are just some of the many risks that you expose yourself to whenever you agree to public Wi-Fi network standards.
Like everyone else, we know this will not sit well with you. The threat of having your data harvested by someone you did not authorize, only for it to be used to harm you is frightening. Don’t worry, we might have something for you to address that.
24/7 Data Encryption with a VPN
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) has different models of operation. The good news is that all those models work well for you when securing your connection on a public Wi-Fi network.
VPNs send your data through an encryption tunnel before they get to the destination. Even if you were running your Internet activities on an unencrypted network, no hacker will be able to see what’s going on inside of your tunnel.
That frustrates snooping and sniffing activities and prevents the hijacking of your conversations – since no one else is even seeing it in the first place.
The danger is not from the existence of the free Wi-Fi networks. It is, rather, from the sort of security protocol – or lack thereof – which is run on these networks. With a better understanding of the different forms of attack possible on unsecured networks, it would be in your best interests to layer your connections over with a VPN today.
COO and co-founder of Creative Mindscape. Lover of marketing, psychology, tech and all things sport. Family man with a passion for living life outside the rat race and chasing your own dreams.