The Dangers of Public WiFi Network Connections
The Internet has become an increasingly central part of our lives and we constantly use it no matter where we are. Due to the advent and ubiquity of smartphones and portable tablets, the demand for fast Internet on the go has soared, resulting in the creation and widespread use of Public WiFi Networks.
These networks are just like your wireless router at home, but instead of being properly secured, encrypted and password protected, they are open networks that allow just about anyone to join. Public WiFi Networks are offered at more and more establishments, including coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, airports, schools and even hospitals. At face value, this sounds wonderful because this technology allows people outside of their homes access to high-speed Internet through smartphones, tablets and laptops.
Unfortunately, as useful as Public WiFi Networks can be, they also pose a serious threat to your privacy.
Why Are Public WiFi Networks Dangerous?
Because they are not encrypted or password protected, public WiFi Networks have significant vulnerabilities. Although the business offering free WiFi wants to make it as easy as possible for customers to connect and enjoy high-speed Internet, criminals will steal your information by actively snooping on other people using the network.
Because the Public WiFi Network is unencrypted, criminals can essentially “watch” everything you are doing on the Internet, including what passwords you enter, what websites you visit and what you do on them. This means that you could be divulging banking and credit card information, and other sensitive personal information you may be working with online. All of this can be done by a hacker intercepting the wireless signals between your mobile device and the unsecured Public WiFi Network.
Criminals will also find locations where they think they can steal a lot of useful information from unsuspecting victims and create their own Public WiFi Network. The criminal will actually set up your free Internet hotspot for you! The price, of course, will be your personal information and privacy. Now, criminals are not merely intercepting your wireless signals out of the air, but tricking you into connecting to their computer or device in order to monitor everything you do on the Internet. They also may even potentially steal files off your mobile device. This is commonly known as the “honeypot,” since the hotspot attracts Internet users to the criminal much like bees would be drawn to a pot of honey.
4 Steps to Protect Yourself and Your Clients
There are 4 steps you can take to help prevent your own business from falling victim to any hackers or snoopers who try to steal your personal information. This is also good information to pass on to your clients.
- Whenever you are going to be using sensitive personal information such as Social Security numbers, bank account information or credit cards, try to do so when at home on a secure connection that is encrypted and password protected.
- If you absolutely must connect to WiFi in public, do not connect to a public or unsecured network. Pay extra, if you have to, so that you can join a secured network.
- Whenever you’re on a Public WiFi Network, try to use websites that start with “https” vs. “http” in the URL so you know there is at least one layer of protection.
- For maximum security, purchase and set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN encrypts all the information from your mobile device, so that even if a hacker manages to intercept your wireless signals, it will only be undecipherable gibberish.
The Internet is an amazingly powerful tool, but don’t be duped into giving up your sensitive personal information just to save a few minutes while browsing the web in public.
Editor’s Note: This is another article in a series on identity theft and fraud; many thanks to the Identify Theft Resource Center for supporting Intuit Accountants News Central with content. Be sure to read Eva’s other articles: