What you need to know about “Public Wi-Fi” and how it could affect you.

When we are out and about, none of us turn off the WiFi on our devices so wherever we go, our WiFi enabled devices are constantly “searching” for a known WiFi network to connect to.  It is also extremely common for us to ask for the WiFi password in the hotels where we stay, or the restaurants & coffee shops we visit. Of course, we don’t want to use up our 3G/4G mobile data or we simply hope to enjoy a faster bandwidth connection by connecting to the WiFi network that is offered to us for free, but what are the risks for you if any?

Public WiFi Networks

Regardless of whether the WiFi network is password protected or not, you are essentially forming part of a network in which there can be a whole lot of other people.  Its like accessing a house with or without a key, once you are inside, you could stay in the lounge or…you could “snoop around”. It is never easy to know “how safe” the network is, because this largely depends on who is offering it, how it was built, what equipment is running the network and the level of expertise/experience of the people who put it all together.  Often, these WiFi networks are setup and offered with the simplest equipment despite the best intentions and even if a password is required to access the WiFi, many are unaware of the potential vulnerabilities if there is anyone inside the same network with more devious intentions. After all, a “network” is a bunch of devices that are connected, even if Wirelessly, they are still connected.  As the devices inside the network are all connected to each other either directly or through a “router”, it means that it could be possible for someone else to see what stuff you have in your device or simply intercept and “sniff” your data traffic.

What damage can this do to you?

If a person with bad intentions is also connected to the same WiFi network as you are, they could play with a whole variety of techniques to either access information on your device directly or “sniff” your data traffic.  If they are “sniffing” your data traffic, they are looking for information which is not encrypted and hope that in this exchange of information they might be able to pick up usernames & passwords for your social media accounts, email accounts, bank accounts etc.  Of course once they obtain this information, there are a lot of things that can be done, ranging from identity theft, access to private information to economic loss. Some hackers are even capable of simulating or building a “fake” WiFi Network with their laptop which creates a “pretend WiFi” network with the same name as the one you are expecting to connect to.  Of course, if you connect to this WiFi network, you are connecting directly to the hacker’s computer (instead of the intended WiFi network) where they would be able to see almost all data traffic and read almost all the information.

What can you do to reduce the risks?

Although the chances of you being affected are low, and you are probably an unlikely target for hackers, it is important that you are at least aware of these vulnerabilities and that you understand more or less what it means to be connected to a WiFi network.

The safest bet is to not use public WiFi networks.  Try to use only your own WiFi at home and use the 3G/4G for data when outside.  If you are going to connect to public WiFi networks outside your home, then try to do so at establishments which you feel you can trust because it is also true that many establishments have some well built and well maintained WiFi networks too.  Other than that, it is also very important that your devices are updated to the latest Firmware/Software releases because the vulnerabilities on your device are usually found on “older versions” that have not been updated.

We sincerely hope this information was useful and we look forward to sharing some more tips with you in due course.