The potential dangers of using public Wi-Fi and how to protect oneself
Let’s picture a bustling city café. It’s a hub of conversations, be it between people sipping their morning espressos or between devices connected to the café’s public Wi-Fi network. But what if, unbeknownst to the patrons, there was an eavesdropper, not at the next table, but on the network, intently listening in on the digital conversations?
This scenario illustrates the potential dangers of using public Wi-Fi. Unsecured public networks, like the one in our café, are easy prey for cybercriminals. They might eavesdrop on your online activity to capture sensitive information, such as login credentials, credit card numbers, or personal emails—a tactic known as ‘sniffing.’ Or they might set up a fake Wi-Fi hotspot, a so-called ‘Evil Twin,’ and invite you to join their network, serving you with a side of digital deceit.
In 2019, Coronet, a cloud security software company, ranked the Las Vegas Strip as the most insecure place in the US for connecting to public Wi-Fi, followed closely by Times Square in New York (1). They concluded that users have a 43% chance of connecting to medium to high-risk Wi-Fi networks in these locations.
So how can you safeguard your digital conversations while enjoying your cup of joe? Firstly, if you don’t need to connect, stay disconnected. If you must use public Wi-Fi, ensure the websites you visit use HTTPS, which encrypts the data between your device and the website. It’s like having a private, coded conversation in the middle of a crowded room.
Consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). It creates a secure tunnel for your data to travel through, away from the prying eyes of eavesdroppers. It’s akin to having a hushed conversation in a soundproof room, right in the midst of the café.
Turn off file sharing on your device and avoid entering sensitive information or accessing important accounts. And finally, remember to forget. Make sure your device forgets the network once you’re done, preventing it from automatically reconnecting the next time.
In a world ever more interconnected, we need to ensure we are connecting securely. Let’s enjoy the convenience of public Wi-Fi, but let’s do so with a dash of digital vigilance.
(1) Coronet. “Attention All Passengers: Significant Cyber Risks Reside in U.S. Airports.” Coronet, 2019. https://www.coro.net/2019-airport-wi-fi-risk-report