How to keep your data secure on public WiFi networks?


The long hour at the local cafe. The impatient wait at the airport. The lazy strolling at the shopping mall. I am someone who used to spend these little pockets of time by fiddling with the smartphone. As long as the public wifi networks was available, these pockets of time never felt too long.

I never used to think twice before tuning into these public networks. Until my nerdy friend gave a sit down on why I quit doing this once and for all. Turns out public wifi networks are a haven for hackers. These networks have serious security flaws that make them insecure. The WPA2 protocol which is the encryption standard for most Wifi networks was found to be seriously flawed. The flaw allows hackers to intercept information from your devices that are connected to a public network.

To put it in context, if I connect to public wifi like I always used to and carry out any online data exchange, it could be hacked by hackers. My Facebook credentials, the emails I sent and received, chat conversations, photos on my device memory and much more.

The Plot Thickens

This security flaw is not limited to any specific set of devices. Almost every device in force that runs on Android, Windows, Apple, Linux is counted to be on the risk list. Depending on the network configuration, hackers can even manipulate the data that you see online. They can project fake banking websites in place of genuine ones to steal your credentials.

In fact, they can even inject malicious codes into websites. When a naive user connects to the internet through a public wifi these malicious codes download as software or other attachments. They then install themselves in the user system to record the user keystrokes or even cause other technical problems.

How To Stay Secure On Public Wi-Fi Networks

Two simple words of advice would be – don’t use. When it comes to public WiFi, there is more to lose than to gain from the few hours of free internet. If at all you find yourself in a situation where you have to connect to a public WiFI and use it, do not forget to use these security measures:

  1. Safeguard your personally identifiable information (PII)

Your personal identifiable information includes banking information, personal identification details, saved locations like home or office address, and so on. In other words, information which you should not be comfortable sharing with a stranger. While connecting to a public WiFi ensure that you are not sharing any of these PII as they could be visible to hackers.

  1. Use VPN (Virtual Private Networks)
    A virtual private network is a proven method to shield yourself from hackers. VPNs create secure and isolated network connections that cannot be intercepted. They act like safety tunnels that can be accessed only by authorized users like employees or customers of the VPN service.
  1. Use websites with HTTPS
    A litmus test to know if the website you are visiting is secure or not is to check for the SSL certificate. An SSL certificate is a cryptic key which encrypts and decrypts information using encryption techniques. The encryption ensures that hackers are unable to get hold of the data in its truest form. Even if they manage to intercept the data they will only be able to access data that resembles an alphabet soup or gibberish. So whenever you are connecting to a public WiFi ensure that you access and browse only those websites that have the HTTPS address bar.
  1. Monitor your Bluetooth activity
    Bluetooth has been one of the most popular modes of file sharing until WiFI and data-based models became popular. If hackers are going to pick any data from your devices, it is definitely going to be through bluetooth. Bluetooth helps to send and receive data with nearby devices.

    The challenge with Bluetooth is that you never know whether it is turned on or not unless you check the activity. If you have given unprecedented control to mobile apps, they can even turn on and off bluetooth connection without asking for your permission. This makes things easy for hackers. So, it is a good measure of security to check for your bluetooth activity, especially when you are connected to a public WiFi.
  1. Turn off air dropping and file sharing
    Apple’s AirDrop is a convenient way to share files with other Apple devices. Android and Windows also have similar file sharing systems that make it easy to exchange data. But, with such convenience comes trouble too.

    When you turn on your file sharing settings while connected to Public WiFi, you are giving hackers an easy way to pick data from your device and send them across to their servers without breaking into a sweat. The trouble gets worse when you don’t set permission controls for file sharing. Put up your defenses by turning off air dropping or file sharing while connected to a public WiFi.

A word of caution

Public WiFi might seem to be a generous offering. But, behind its veil is hidden several perils which can leave you distraught. From harming personal reputation to causing financial damage, the list of trouble is too long. A good way to stay secure would be to avoid using public WiFi. If at all you have to use it, ensure that you are following the safety measure listed above.

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