Let’s be honest, we’ve all wondered about this, haven’t we? While it is undoubtedly convenient and quick, we’re never sure what information we might really be sharing while browsing the Internet at a local coffee shop, at the airport or in the mall. The sad fact though is that we are leaving ourselves extremely vulnerable and are accessing sites that should only be logged in behind firewalls and other security measures.
Data collected indicates that over 50% of users accessing public WiFi use it to log into their social media networks and share information. An even higher percentage (close to 60%) access their personal email and an alarming portion (approx. 20%) access their financial institutions!
What’s the risk?
The most important thing to realize is that while public WiFi is convenient for you in terms of not requiring authentication, that same rule also applies in the hackers favor also.
One of the biggest risks because of this is something called a Man-in-the-Middle (MiTM) attack where the hacker uses a device to interpose themselves between your computer/device and the website you are navigating to. What this means, in essence, is that the hacker has access to all of the information you are sending to this website and can, at their leisure, access the site as if they were you.
Another risk to be concerned about is Malware. With an open network, hackers also have the ability to infect your system and gain access to all of the information on it. So even if you are not navigating to any of the sites I’ve mentioned earlier, you’re still at risk.
How can I protect myself?
While you might think that the only way to stay safe is to never use public WiFi again, you can stay safe if you follow some fairly simple and straightforward rules.
- Install a good Antivirus – If you do not have an antivirus already on your system, it is imperative that you start with that step first. You can start with some free ones like AVG, Avast, Avira or Kaspersky Free. It is extremely important to have a good and up to date antivirus installed on your system. Keeping your software updated will protect you from the majority of malware attacks & will also help protect you in your general browsing activities.
- Keep your software up to date – Keeping your operating system and all other applications updated ensures that common vulnerabilities are patched reducing the risk to your system. You need to remember that hackers will go after the easier target and if your computer is better protected, you will be safer.
- Keep your information encrypted – The only protection from MiTM style attacks is to ensure that the information you are sending out is encrypted. You can do this fairly easily by utilizing a VPN and a good one to try is the product available from Norton. While this is not a free product, it is worth the investment if you want to keep yourself secure.