The Dangers Of Using Public WiFi Networks: Some Safety Tips

FBI WiFi RoutersMIOTRAN / Pixabay

Public wifi networks can be found everywhere you go these days, from public parks and hotels to restaurants and coffee shops. The convenience of these connections is undeniable; they enable us to enjoy Internet connectivity on the go, after all.

However, the use of public WiFi can leave you potentially exposed to threats like man-in-the-middle attacks. If you aren’t careful enough, your personal information may fall into the wrong hands and used by hackers to their advantage!

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Why is Public WiFi Unsafe?

For starters, connecting to public WiFi networks often requires no authentication. Even if they do, you’ll be welcomed with a captive portal and asked to agree with the Terms of Service (ToS), or provide the password (which you can get from the owner). This means that anybody can connect to public WiFi, including the bad guys!

Moreover, all of the traffic sent to and from your smartphone or laptop is unencrypted. Using simple yet effective tools like WiFi sniffers, attackers can easily intercept and capture the data sent over the network. For these reasons and others, you should not use public WiFi without the appropriate safeguards.

The Most Common Public WiFi Attacks

Now that you have got a better idea of why using public WiFi is dangerous, let’s take a look at some of the most common attacks used by cybercriminals to compromise your privacy on public WiFi networks:


The easiest way to target unsuspecting users is to stand in between the device and the public WiFi router. This is referred to as a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack. When you try to access a service or website, the perpetrator acts as a relay, capturing the data being transmitted – without you even getting a clue about it – and then passing it on. As a result, their able to gain access to all kinds of information such as your messages, financial transactions, and credentials.

Fake Hotspots

Never make the costly mistake of assuming that all public WiFi hotspots are legitimate. That’s because malicious actors can create fake ones with a name somewhat similar to that of a neighboring hotspot provided by a hotel or restaurant. If you fall for it and use these fake hotspots, its game over for you. They will be able to view everything that you do on the connection, and even inject malware on your device.

Passive Sniffing

To put it simply, passive sniffing is the process of monitoring traffic sent over a WiFi network to identify and resolve any maintenance issues. However, this is increasingly being used by wrongdoers today to steal precious data. All they’d have to do is connect to a local area network (LAN), and capture and view any data sent over it with the help of a sniffer tool. This kind of sniffing is called passive because it’s quite difficult to detect.

Take Your Public WiFi Security Up a Notch in 5 Simple Ways!

So, you may wonder “How do I improve my public WiFi security? While it’s recommended that you avoid the use of public WiFi networks, we understand that sometimes you have no other choice. Take, for instance, when you’re out for shopping and you need to reply to an email from your client urgently.

The following are a few effective ways to use public WiFi networks as safely as possible:

1. Get a VPN: Using a VPN is undoubtedly the best way to stay protected on public WiFi networks. If you don’t have one yet, you totally should, because it will secure all your traffic from end-to-end using military-grade encryption.

As a result, nobody will be able to see your online activities, let alone walk away with your sensitive data.

2. Turn Off File-Sharing: If you want to use a public WiFi, make sure to turn off file sharing before you go ahead and connect to the network. Leaving this feature enabled makes it easier for hackers to infect your device with malware.

3. Install HTTPS Everywhere: For an additional layer of security, you should install the extension HTTPS Everywhere on your browser. Basically, it forces all the sites you visit to secure your communications using HTTPS.

4. Disable Auto Connect: To prevent your device from connecting to any fake hotspots set up by cyber thieves, you’re better off configuring your device to NOT automatically connect to any available WiFi networks.

5. Use Anti-virus and Firewall: Keep your firewall enabled as it will actively monitor data packets coming from the public WiFi network to determine whether or not they’re safe. Moreover, a robust anti-virus program will go a long way in stopping malware from making their way onto your device.

Final Word

Maintaining security on public WiFi networks is incredibly important, and shouldn’t be ignored at any cost. Hopefully, this article will enable you to take your public WiFi security to the next level!

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About the Author

Ankur Shah
Ankur Shah is the founder of the Value Investing India Report, a leading independent, value oriented journal of the Indian financial markets. Ankur has more than eight years of equity research experience covering emerging markets, with a focus on India and South East Asia. He has worked as both a buy-side investment analyst for a global long/short equity hedge fund and a sell-side analyst for an emerging markets investment bank. Ankur is a graduate of Harvard Business School. You can learn more about his latest views on global markets at the Value Investing India Report. -- He can be emailed at [email protected]

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