The Risks of Unsecure Wi-Fi Hotspots

In the digital age, being able to log on in the park, on the train, or in the library is a convenient way to stay connected without chewing through your mobile data. Many are aware that using open access public Wi-Fi hotspots comes with certain risks, however despite these risks, their popularity and use continues to increase For many who use free Wi-Fi regularly, this is often accompanied by a sense of complacency.

iiNet supply wireless broadband for those to browse the web with complete confidence no matter where they are. Free internet however is always going to be used by the masses, and unfortunately also by those with less than honourable intentions. It’s not just the tech savvy that can steal private data and eavesdrop on what are doing online. . With just a simple browser plugin and instructions available to everyone through a quick Google search you can see exactly what a public Wi-Fi eavesdropper can.

Fortunately there are some basic precautions that can be taken when connecting to open networks to prevent unscrupulous users from “snooping” and “listening in” to private communications, which are explained below.

Why do free Wi-Fi hotspots come with increased risk?

The major reason using public Wi-Fi networks carry additional risk is because information is sent over an unencrypted network. Without a password to connect, information is visible to everyone using that network and can be easily intercepted. This means that emails, passwords, and credit card information could be captured or read by anyone else that is able to connect to an open public internet network. This can result in email or social media accounts is hijacked, and in worst-case scenarios, another user on the network gaining control of your accounts and assuming your identity online.

Other Specific Risks Include:

  • Connecting to a malicious network. In some locations (e.g an airport) there may be several networks to choose from. A rogue network may present itself as legitimate free Wi-Fi purely to capture user name or data on the landing page. If in doubt about choosing the right network to connect to, always ask.
  • Infected devices that are using the network could intentionally or unintentionally send malicious code and infect your device with viruses, spam or malware.
  • Even password-protected networks can present risks since the network password may not be regularly changed, and often can be easily obtained. This may lull users into a false sense of security.   

What To Do to Stay Secure

  • Avoid online banking and online shopping on public networks– even on networks that require a password to access.
  • Turn off any file sharing. This can be completed through the control panel or system preferences on your computer, or with a PC by selecting the ‘public network’ option when connecting to a new unsecured network.
  • Ensure you firewall is activated and anti virus protection is up-to-date.
  • Only log into HTTPS sites and ensure browsing sessions remain secure. Some sites may revert back to unencrypted sessions after the log in page. You can tell if a site is secure by the padlock icon in the web address bar.
  • Avoid using the same password for all your online accounts and change passwords regularly.
  • Use email through web based browsers for sending emails where possible.

Use a VPN (virtual private network) which will encrypt internet traffic on the browsing session. With Windows you can easily set up a VPN and it is recommended if you regularly use public Wi-Fi networks.