Free WiFi? Score! Who doesn’t love the ability to browse the internet on-the-go or in your favorite coffee spot? When you’re traveling or in need of a hangout spot, public WiFi can really be a sanity-saver.
Sadly though, you’re not the only one who loves free WiFi – hackers do too. In fact, gaining access to open WiFi networks is one of the easiest and therefore most common ways for hackers to get their hands on a ton of personal data in a short amount of time. Using it without sufficient precaution puts you at risk for online identity theft.
How do hackers steal your identity on public WiFi?
Whether you’re in a public hotel, airport, coffee shop, etc., beware, as these are the most common places for the following attacks to occur.
"Man in the Middle (MITM)" Attack
This kind of attack happens when a communication between two systems is intercepted by an outside entity. If a hacker is connected to a network where multiple users are already connected, they can intercept communications between users and the public WiFi router. They can also capture and view all incoming and outgoing data.
If you have file sharing enabled while on a public network, hackers can send you files infected with malware. If you receive a mystery file sent, it’s most likely not from the secret admirer you were hoping for – don’t open it.
Hackers can set up a legitimate looking WiFi connection and simply wait for someone to fall for the trap. Once you’re connected, they have access to all your info.
FYI: Even if you think you know everyone at your favorite coffee shop or café, don’t think you are safe from becoming a victim. Hackers can do their dirty work from anywhere in the world.
What to Be Aware of
In general, always be aware of your surroundings, especially in unfamiliar, public places. Hackers and criminals are ready and waiting for unaware victims to exploit. When in public and using the Internet, always make sure to:
- Verify the network. Does the network name make sense? Does it match your location, for example, the airport, or a coffee shop, etc.? Taking the example a bit further, the coffee shop probably doesn’t have more than one open network, so beware of anything that has the same name. Ask shop employees to verify the correct network.
- Don’t look at personal info. While in public places, don’t check your bank accounts, credit reports or other sensitive info. Someone could steal that data over WiFi, or by simply looking over your shoulder.
- Don’t online shop in public. Getting some online shopping done at the coffee shop seems innocent enough, right? Unfortunately, not only are you making your credit card details visible for someone to snag, but making purchases online often requires sign in details that thieves would love to take advantage of.
- Use a VPN. A virtual private network (VPN) can make a public internet connection safer by establishing a secure and encrypted connection.
- Monitor your Bluetooth connectivity: Bluetooth allows connection to occur between several devices, which is great and convenient for the user’s sake, but using it in public can be risky. “Bluebugging” is a scamming technique where hackers use software to intercept your signal and gain access to your phone and all its contents.
- Turn off the option to automatically connect. Don’t automatically connect to whatever is open. Go to your phone settings and turn off this feature. Manually browse available options and select one that looks safe and logical to the location.
- Don’t leave your devices unattended. As a rule of thumb, never leave your laptop, phone, tablet etc. unattended in a public area, even for a minute. It’s never a good idea to leave your stuff vulnerable for someone to steal, even if you’re working from a VPN or secured network.
Protecting yourself has never been so important.
An increasing number of people are working remotely; therefore, it’s never been so important to be aware of potential risks and how to identify things that look fishy. As technology evolves, hackers are finding newer, sneakier ways of adapting. WiFi has become so commonplace that you probably don’t think twice about connecting, but we’re here to inform and help protect you from hackers that prey on the unaware.
IDShield is a product of Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. d/b/a LegalShield (“LegalShield”). LegalShield provides access to identity theft protection and restoration services. For complete terms, coverage and conditions, please see an identity theft plan. All Licensed Private Investigators are licensed in the state of Oklahoma. This is meant to provide general information and is not intended to provide legal advice, render an opinion, or provide any specific recommendations.