Hidden risks of free WiFi and how to prevent them

Public WiFi has developed into a fantastic opportunity for many types of crooks in the age of increasing cybercrime. According to a recent survey, 79% of people who use public WiFi do so at serious risk. They choose a hotspot based on its WiFi signal strength, choose one with an acceptable name, or simply go with the cheapest choice. But hackers can easily set up harmful hotspots and steal people’s personal information by using public areas as a cover. In secret internet forums, two hackers and NordVPN’s Daniel Markuson, a specialist in digital privacy, discussed the dangers of unsecure public WiFi. They promised to remain anonymous in exchange for sharing their knowledge. 

What makes free WiFi dangerous?

Two issues that potentially expose any public WiFi hotspot to risk were the subject of agreement among all the hackers. These are a weak password and a router with a poor configuration.

A snooper is in the ideal situation to seek for their target unnoticed when there are dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people present in a public area. The vicious cycle can be started quickly since the attackers typically utilise free, basic software that is simple to use.

Hackers with experience cited Wireshark and Aircrack-ng as suitable examples. They assert that it may take a few minutes to begin sneaking a peek at private data sent from a device linked to an unprotected WiFi.

The worst part of an attack is that the victim can be completely unaware that their device has been taken over. If you’re lucky, the spy might merely read what you were doing online. However, the worst-case situation is that they could acquire all of your private data, including passwords and credit card information.

You may not be aware, but your home WiFi name contains your address. These connection requests can be used by stalkers to determine where you live because your device is always hunting for reputable WiFi networks. They only need to locate an area that is accessible to the public and set up a small scanner to passively gather all WiFi join requests in the area.

Anonymous hackers are warning you: Your location can be determined by anyone who knows your home WiFi name. You only need to type it into a public website like that generates heatmaps of WiFi hotspots.

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Attacks by hackers on public WiFi

The most typical cyberattacks that can be launched on unsecure public WiFi networks are described by anonymous hackers as follows:

  • Man-in-the-middle attacks. When a device makes a connection to the internet, the data travels from it to a certain service or website. An attacker can get in between the transmission and modify it. The information on the device becomes no longer private.
  • Evil twin attacks. These can happen when cybercriminals create fake WiFi hotspots. When a device connects to a rogue access point controlled by a hacker, all the communications fall into their hands.
  • Malware injections. When you connect to an unsecured network, malicious code can slip into your device at any time. Once the malware infects the device, it can break down the system and give the hackers complete freedom over your personal files.
  • Snooping and sniffing. With the help of special software, cybercriminals can see all data passing through the network and access what you do online. They can view your browsing history, capture your login details, and break into your online accounts to steal sensitive information or even money.

How to use public WiFi safely

Markuson, a digital privacy specialist at NordVPN, advises against using free public WiFi and recommends using your mobile data instead. Here are some helpful suggestions on what you should do to protect your gadgets and the data they contain if you have no other option.

  1. When connecting to WiFi in a coffee shop or a hotel, always double-check the network name with a member of the staff.  Remember, hackers might create fake WiFi hotspots using names that look trustworthy.
  2. On public WiFi, avoid visiting sensitive websites, logging into your social accounts, and never perform any banking transactions. Public WiFi is best for browsing the internet.
  3. If you must log into private accounts, make sure you have set up two-factor authentication. Use an e-signature to perform any important transactions.
  4. Enable your firewall. Most operating systems have a built-in firewall, which keeps outsiders from going through your computer’s data. Although it won’t completely protect from hacks, the firewall is useful if combined with other security tools.
  5. Use a VPN (virtual private network). A reliable VPN, like NordVPN, will make sure your online connections are private and no sensitive data can get into the hands of criminals. The tool will send your internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel, which makes it almost impossible to hijack.
  6. Remember to turn off the WiFi function on your device when not using it. It will spare you from unwanted connections with WiFi networks surrounding you.

Markuson advised using extreme caution when logging onto any WiFi connection in a public area. Avoid using unsecured networks and use a VPN, such as NordVPN, to safeguard your privacy, traffic, and browsing data as well as yourself from potential identity theft.

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