Using public Wi-Fi can expose you to many risks, especially if you’re using your device to complete financial transactions or input other sensitive information. When you’re connected to a public Wi-Fi network – like one at a coffee shop, for example – any other computers also connected to the public network can reach your computer and attempt to break into it using a number of potential vulnerabilities in your device. Here’s how hackers use public Wi-Fi against you and how you can protect yourself.
How hackers use public Wi-Fi to their advantage
Being on the same public Wi-Fi network as a hacker puts you at risk for these three common scenarios:
- Hackers can trick your device into thinking their computer is the Wi-Fi router, making your device send all traffic to the malicious computer before it gets out to the internet. The hacker can then view and steal all your unencrypted traffic.
- Hackers can also create a fake website that looks and acts exactly like a real website you want to visit. While you think you’re seeing the real site, you’re actually visiting the hacker’s spoofed site. You type in your password to a site, and just like that, the hacker has your credentials and can log in as you.
- They can even set up their own real Wi-Fi access point, set the name to something that seems legitimate, such as the coffee shop’s name or even the same name as an existing Wi-Fi network, and then perform the same attacks mentioned above with even greater ease.
How you can protect yourself from the dangers of public Wi-Fi
The most obvious solution is to not use public Wi-Fi and to use your mobile data or hotspot from your phone to your laptop instead. However, if this is not a viable option because of data costs or a limited plan, consider the following tips for situations when you must use Wi-Fi:
Sometimes using public Wi-Fi is unavoidable. If you must use public Wi-Fi, avoid using financial sites or sending Personally Identifiable Information (PII) while on the network. This is information you definitely don’t want stolen, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.