According to the statistics provided by the World Broadband Alliance, public Wi-Fi hotspots will increase sevenfold in about 5 years. Back in 2015, there were around 64.2 million hotspots, and it’s projected to grow to 432.5 million by 2020. The rapid growth clearly shows how public Wi-Fi contributes to social mobility and even economic development. Behind the benefits, the growing statistics and the millions of Wi-Fi users all over the world, we are left to ask this question, “Are public Wi-Fi networks really safe?”
Wi-Fi has dominated almost all public areas, such as malls, airports, hotels, schools and coffee shops. This allows customers to get free internet access and browse their favorite websites or check their work emails on the go. Public Wi-Fi networks provide convenience to most.
However, this easy access also puts various cyber security threats into play. Many people are not aware that connecting to a free Wi-Fi can be dangerous regardless of what it is that you are doing online. Whether you are just browsing your social media websites, scrolling through your email inbox or purchasing an item, you are not safe when using a public Wi-Fi network. Any information you send or receive through it should be treated as something you make available for public consumption.
Believe it or not, hackers can get through public network security in a snap and intercept any form of information that is transferred between networks. This means that the hackers can have free access to your data too and that includes highly valuable information like addresses, phone numbers, passwords and worse, credit card details.
The Threats to Data
As public Wi-Fi networks are often unsecured, connecting to them can easily lead to stolen and intercepted data of almost any kind. Hackers and other types of cybercriminals can have quick access to information that can allow them to take advantage of your resources for their own benefit. When using the public Wi-Fi, users initially provide open access to all of the websites they have visited. The browsers linked to the network can track every single address of every site that the user has visited while the device was connected to the internet.
The entire email thread you have with your boss or your exchange of messages with friends or colleagues? All of these types of personal communication using the free internet can also be accessed. Imagine confidential email exchanges being intercepted by malicious internet users? This threat can ruin business operations and even personal relationships.
Location and the identity of users can be easily determined by intercepting public Wi-Fi networks. All of the files being sent and received can be accessed freely. Passwords, online banking credentials and credit card details can be acquired in a snap. This sensitive information can be made available to strangers in just one attempt to connect to a free Wi-Fi network. Now, before you decide to connect to another public Wi-Fi, think again and imagine all of the possible sensitive information you can share and lose. Obviously, there are ways people can protect themselves from it but the majority of internet users are completely unaware of them.
The Dangers of Public Wi-Fi
The Public Wi-Fi, as it is free to be accessed by anyone connected to it, does not require login details. These networks are very open, and they work on unencrypted connections. Much like leaving a breadcrumb trail in the forest, the public Wi-Fi is one of the best and easiest targets for cybercriminals to do their thing.
Aside from being a prey to cybercriminals, the public Wi-Fi is not considered secure because it can be easily infected with malware. Malware or malicious software is a dangerous tool that an attacker can use to take control over your laptop, tablet or any Wi-Fi connected device’s data. Malicious software can also be used as a tool to disrupt computer operations or damage and get files, photos and even audio materials.
Public Wi-Fi can also be a cover for rogue or fake hotspots. The rogue hotspots or what we commonly call honeypot networks can be easily set up in a public area, and basically it appears just like a normal public Wi-Fi network. Users can connect to this fake network while the cybercriminals trick the former into getting all of their private information unknowingly. This means that all sent and received data can be intercepted with various techniques through the public Wi-Fi network.
In conclusion, public Wi-Fi networks are not safe and effective measures must be taken to protect highly sensitive information of every internet user. Free public Wi-Fi may appear as a privilege initially but looking into the consequences will help us realize that caution and protection are needed. It won’t hurt to protect all of our data when using the internet, but it will surely be devastating if we allow cybercriminals to exploit the data we open for public access, to their personal advantages.