Public WiFi Security Risks: Why using a Public WiFi Can Be Dangerous

You may have heard this many times: try not to do any online banking or something equally delicate on public Wi-Fi networks. But did you ever wonder why this kind of advice is given and why using open networks can be unsafe? What makes Public WiFi Security risks and what these risks are? Also, doesn’t it make sense that online banking is secure, considering that it is encrypted? Actually, using a public network should be safe, in theory, as the encryption process should be a guarantee that we are in fact connected to, for example, the website of a bank, and that nobody can be snooping on us.

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However, there are a couple of quite serious problems which can occur during the use of a public or open Wi-Fi network or public wifi security risks that may harm you.

Thus, these problems are classified into three major issues:

  • the occurring of snooping,
  • followed by compromised machines taking part in the networking,
  • the case when the hotspot is malicious.public wifi security risks
  • Let’s understand Snooping

It is encryption which usually protects network traffic. Encryption means the converting of electronic data into ciphertext, another form of text, which is not easily comprehended by parties that are not authorized to use it. An example of this is the following: if a neighbor is within your WiFi network range, she cannot see which web pages you are perusing, as the wireless traffic is converted or better said, encrypted between the tablet, smartphone, or the laptop and the wireless router. Furthermore, the encryption process is carried out by means of the Wi-Fi password.

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So, when, for example, we connect with an open or unencrypted Wi-Fi network such as those at airports or cafés or other public places with Wi-Fi, we can tell that the network is generally unencrypted, as we do not need to type in a password in order to connect. In that way, our open network traffic can be easily seen by anyone within the given range. Others can peer into the unencrypted www pages we are visiting, as well as what we are typing into open web forms, even gaining insight into any and every encrypted websites we are connecting to. Thus making it the biggest Public WiFi Security risks. One of the most sensational examples of snooping is with Firesheep, which is a user-friendly tool allowing patrons in any open networks such as for example in cafés or restaurants to spy on the browsing sessions of other people and perhaps even to take control over them. Even highly sophisticated tools such as Wireshark can be used in this purpose (for the analysis of network traffic).

So how can we protect ourselves?

In the case that you are trying to access sensitive data on a public network, this is best done on a closed or encrypted website. In fact, the browser extension called HTTPS Everywhere can give us assistance by way of redirecting us to certain encrypted pages if and when they are available. However, if someone happens to be a frequent browser on public networks, they might wish to invest into a Virtual Private Network (or VPN) and use it when they are on an open Wi-Fi. As a consequence, anyone who is nearby shall be able to make out that you are linked to VPN, but not exactly what you are doing.

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  • Compromised devices (or devices which are potential security threats)

Laptops or smartphones which have been intentionally altered from the original factory are called compromised devices, and they too can be linked with local networks. The procedure to connecting these devices is the following: choose the option of “Public network” in Windows (NOT the Work network options or the Home network). The reason that the public option is preferred is because it locks down the link, which ensures that Windows will not share any sensitive data or files with the other devices on the local networks. What is also relevant is being up-to-date when it comes to security patches, as well as using a firewall such as the one which Windows has built into it. The reason for all this is that a compromised device can infect your laptop, PC or phone.

So how can we protect ourselves?

This can be done by choosing the option Public network during the connecting process, as well as updating the device and enabling a firewall. You can easily protect from Public WiFi Security Risks!

  • Hotspots that are malicious

This third option is the most dangerous for our devices, when the hotspot we are connecting to could be a malicious one (either due to an infection of being connecting to a so-called honeypot network).

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What kind of attacks can be carried out if we connect to public Wi-Fi?

There are a number of assaults which can be carried out against us in the case that we link to the website of a bank on open Wi-Fi. An example is sslstrip which can transparently take control of HTTP connections. Namely, when the website is redirected to HTTPS, then special software is able to convert the links to employ a “twin HTTP link” or in other words, a domain term which seems the same as the real domain one, although it in fact makes use of dissimilar special characters. Often, this happens in a transparent manner, which means a malicious Wi-Fi hotspot can carry out a so-called man-in-the-middle assault and thus intercept protected banking traffic.

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Also, thWiFi Pineapple is a device which is easy to use and allows the attackers to set up assaults easily. So, for example, when a laptop tries to automatically link to a network which it had remembered, the device called the WiFi Pineapple keeps note of these kinds of requests, acknowledging its identity and inviting a connection. What happens next is that the device receives various man-in-the-middle attacks, as well as others.

We have already mentioned what we can do to protect ourselves against the attacks to our devices that can occur if we use public Wi-Fi unwisely.

Got some interesting incidents to share when you used Public WiFi hotspot and got hacked? Well, do share it with me by commenting below!