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How to protect your data when using public Wi-Fi

May 10, 2017 | By John Britas

Wi-Fi has made a huge impact in our life, it has changed the way we work and engage with the digital world from any corner of the world. Having said that free Wi-Fi is on the rise, we can see them in our local coffee shops, bus station, airports and more.

Nevertheless, every freebie comes with a risk, same way accessing free Wi-Fi also comes with its share of viruses and identity threat.

A lot of people don’t know that complimentary WiFi or hotspots are not safe for online interaction like going through your email or chats. One should be careful doing a financial transaction. Why we say this is because accessing free Wi-Fi you tend to use the same password and hotspot, and any data that goes between you and the server is not encrypted. Actually, many people in a specific area have logged into this transmission. This allows the third party to snoop in and reads the data that is not addressed to them.

In short, you never know when the person looking over your shoulder. Your privacy can be breached when you are accessing public Wi-Fi.

How the hacker work?

The first thing a hacker will do is to place himself on the same platform as the victim, and then proceeds to do the rest with the Public Wi-Fi network, because he knows the password. So once you access public Wi-Fi means you have compromised your security.

Technically speaking a lot of public Wi-Fi use WPA2 (Wi-Fi protected Access 2), it’s a kind of secure protocol that ensures stronger data protection and network access control. It gives the user a high level of assurance that only authenticated or authorized user can gain access to. It’s a secure protocol that encrypts traffic between clients and the user. Many users think this encryption safeguard their online communication, but little do people know that anyone who has the password can still sneak and trespass the network.

Needless to say, if you are connected to a public Wi-Fi connection, attackers can pilfer the information. They can see the credentials that you used to login to your account and read the content. To do all this they don’t need Secure Socket Layer (SSL) Encryption. The file transfer and email can be easily captured since they do not have SSL encryption applied.

One need not be a master in technology to snoop into your system because such tools are easily available on the internet. These are the factors that make public Wi-Fi hotspots a vulnerable place go online, as this becomes the popular spot for hackers to target individual users.

How to secure your data when using public Wi-Fi

When using public Wi-Fi secure your traffic using a virtual private network (VPN). Here what happens is that all the data that goes out from your computer will be through an encrypted channel to the provider’s endpoint. This way the traffic is secure and chances of anybody snooping in nil. You can avail public VPN service that comes in the range of $5-$20/month. You can also have the software on your mobile that will automatically enable VPN the moment you connect with public Wi-Fi. The only constraint is that your internet speed, will come down to some 25% to 50%, but you can be sure that your entire session remains encrypted.

When using a public Wi-Fi to make sure you never use any protocol that transfers data in an unsecured manner. It is better to avoid the FTP (file transfer protocol) unless you have a VPN established, or rather use secure FTP that will encrypt your session. Also, configure your email in a way that verifies if SSL is being used for IMAP, POP3 and SMTP connection.

The most common method for attackers to get into your system is by setting up their own Wi-Fi hotspot near the public Wi-Fi. It will be mostly likely to have the same name as the legitimate one. This way the traffic is routed through the attacker’s network, thus enabling him to see the data. The best way to ensure that you are connected to the right point is by verifying the name of the SSID of the hotspot. If you see two access points with the same name, confirm the legitimacy before you try to gain access to that public Wi-Fi.

Abstain from installing any software or other programs when using a public Wi-Fi, because chances are your computer will be infected with viruses. A common method is to install a virus in your system is by informing the user that his browser is using an outdated software, and he will be redirected to a fake website, that will do the rest by installing the virus in lieu of the real software.

The Wi-Fi snooping is growing at an alarming rate as more public Wi-Fi hotspots get installed. Major cities in the US and around the world offer free Wi-Fi at popular location. And as more people are taking advantage of it, they least forget how vulnerable they are to online attacks.

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