If you use your mobile device anywhere outside your home, then you risk a cyber-attack. Of course, your device getting hacked is a possibility regardless of where you are, but the vulnerability is compounded when you’re in the public sphere and relying on an open and unsecure network. Learn of the places you’re most at risk and what you can do to safeguard yourself from remote hackers that may be lurking just around the corner.
Public Transport Stations
This includes airports, bus stops, train stations, and other mass transit areas. These locations often provide complimentary Wi-Fi access, and browsing on your mobile device is a great way to kill time while awaiting your flight or bus. This is also precisely why hackers target these locations: there are dozens of unsuspecting targets. While some people may take precautions, others have an it-could-never-happen-to-me mentality.
Here’s something else to consider: the risk isn’t limited to airport terminals, bus stops, and waiting areas. It also applies once you’re inside your transport. Most planes, busses, and trains nowadays have wireless Internet access. Once again, these connections are not secure and leave you vulnerable. The passenger seated next to you or just a few seats down can be phishing for your information.
Do you know why coffee at a local café costs an insane $5.00 a cup? You’re not just paying for the coffee but also for the right to occupy the space and use the Wi-Fi. How secure is that hotspot at your local Starbucks?
According to one report mentioned in the Independent, café Wi-Fi networks were deemed “high-risk.” Users were especially vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks, which comprise of 69% of cyber intrusions. Cafes are also the most popular public locations for Wi-Fi hotspots, surpassing airports and hotels. Most locations also have lax security standards, making it relatively easy for hackers to intercept information between two people corresponding from their devices.
Most hotel Wi-Fi is completely open with zero encryption, leaving you vulnerable to snooping. Some hotels have their own welcome webpage requiring the user to enter a password, often associated with their room number. These webpages are known as captive portals. The password only limits the hotel’s access and does not keep your online activity private. The password is merely to authenticate yourself. The Wi-Fi is still open.
Bear in mind that you are vulnerable even if you are in your hotel room. Some guests are under the impression they are safe because they are in the privacy of their reserved room. You are in no way protected just because you are enclosed in a physical wall. The guest from a few doors down can be up to no good.
How to Safeguard Your Online Activity in Public
This section is part two and explains how to protect yourself if you must use an open network. Ideally, you should only use public Wi-Fi that requires a password. When we say “password,” we mean tapping the Internet icon on your device, finding the area’s hotspot name, and entering the password. We also suggest only visiting encrypted websites. That is, sites that begin with “HTTPS” and not “HTTP”.”
Consider implementing some of the other precautions below.
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
VPNs encrypt your data and acts as a protected buffer between the server and browser. Information that passes through will not be visible to hackers. VPNs also have the added benefit of concealing your IP with its own IP address. That means your location will show that of the VPN provider.
Despite the efficacy of VPNs, most people still don’t use them when using an open network. According to a report from The Best VPN, 75% of public Wi-Fi users do not use a VPN.
Turn Off the Wi-Fi When You’re Done
Connect to the Internet only on an as-needed-basis and switch if off when you’re finished. The majority of users just switch off their device, oblivious that their phone or tablet is still connected to the open network. Take the active step of disconnecting. It consumes a measly 30-seconds of your time to take this security measure. This is a good habit to establish if you are a regular public Wi-Fi user. Do this even if using an encrypted public network.
Be Wary of Pop-ups
After logging in on a captive portal, a pop-up may appear asking you to sign up for an “advanced browsing feature” or to install a browser extension or software to increase download speed. In some cases, these pop-ups are legit; however, we don’t recommend automatically signing up or agreeing to what the prompt is asking. Be absolutely certain that the request is from a safe source. Confirm with guest services or a clerk that the pop-up is legitimate.
The public Wi-Fi sphere is riddled with people with nefarious intentions. They lie in wait to exploit your moment of lax judgement. Taking the precautions outlined can make the difference between staying safe and becoming a statistic.