Dangers of using unknown WiFi networks

Most consumers and professional use public networks to communicate in an ever mobile and traveling world. According to a survey of 1,025 people conducted by Symantec in May 2016, of the 60% of American consumers who believe that their information is safe when using public Wi-Fi, only 50% believe that they bear any personal responsibility for ensuring that their data is secure. 17% of those surveyed believe that individual websites are responsible for making sure that visitor data is secure, while the same percentage think that this duty falls to the Wi-Fi network provider.

In and of itself, a wireless access point (WAP) or wireless network connection isn’t inherently dangerous. It becomes so if it’s unsecured – allowing the movement of data without any form of encryption or security protection.

Before you use unknown WiFi networks or Public networks, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What’s the exact name of the network?
  • What’s the procedure for logging in?
  • Anything else that visitors should know about?

Otherwise, you run the risk of being victimized by cyber-criminals who may have set up a fake wireless access point, or Wi-Fi “honeypot” to trap unsuspecting visitors at that location.

The fake hotspot may look just like what you’d expect – down to the name and logo of the establishment. But the Wi-Fi network is one owned and operated by hackers or cyber-criminals. And logging into it through a lack of due diligence could expose you to any number of dangers they might impose. The same features that make free Wi-Fi hotspots desirable for consumers make them desirable for hackers; namely, that it requires no authentication to establish a network connection. This creates an amazing opportunity for the hacker to get unfettered access to unsecured devices on the same network. Hackers can also use an unsecured Wi-Fi connection to distribute malware. If you allow file-sharing across a network, the hacker can easily plant infected software on your computer.

As mobile Wi-Fi becomes increasingly common, you can expect Internet security issues and public Wi-Fi risks to grow over time. But this doesn’t mean you have to stay away from free Wi-Fi and tether yourself to a desk again. The vast majority of hackers are simply going after easy targets, and taking a few precautions should keep your information safe.

Solution: A Virtual Private Network (VPN) service or app is the centerpiece of your defenses against unsecured Wi-Fi. A VPN imposes strong encryption on all data moving to and from your device during each session – so even if a hacker were to intercept your connection, they’d be hard pressed to decrypt any data they find, and much more likely to discard it in favor of easier pickings from unprotected users. Also having a well-configured firewall (corporate or personal) filtering transmissions to and from the network, and an up to date suite of security software (anti-malware, anti-keylogger, etc.) still holds as well as monitoring devices on your network are essential ways of reducing risk to the network.

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