When was the last time you were out and about, when suddenly you remembered you forgot to respond to an email from earlier that day? Maybe you want to see what movies are playing at the local theater or find out if your favorite restaurant is open for take-out. So, you get out your trusty smartphone just to find out that you have run out of data for the month on your mobile plan. You kick yourself for not taking the time to look into those unlimited plans yet, but just then you spot a coffeeshop with those magic words—Free Wi-Fi. You open up your wi-fi settings and start to connect, but hold on…
When was the last time you thought about wireless security? It’s probably not something you think of too often. However, in a situation like the one described above, wireless security needs to be a primary concern. Often, free public wi-fi is “open”, meaning there is no security. Your devices may even use this term next to the wi-fi network name, or there may be a padlock next to the secure ones and no padlock next to the unsecure ones. Whatever the case, an open wi-fi network with no password has no encryption—the computer magic that keeps the bad guys out. In many cases, there may be a password, but it’s likely very weak—very low/no complexity, a dictionary word, or a phrase associated with the business “HotCoffeeNow”.
Why is this so important? Connecting to your wireless network at home is one thing. You control the settings, make sure updates are accomplished, use antimalware protection, and hopefully you know who else is on the network. In a public wi-fi situation, you don’t control or know any of these things for sure. You may not even be connecting to a legitimate network. There is a type of threat called a man-in-the-middle. One of the many man-in-the-middle tactics is to set up a rogue access point. These terms are fairly self-explanatory, but in essence, you’d be connecting to a wi-fi network with a very similar to the real one. It would even use the same password because in public wi-fi, that’s no secret at all—it’s probably posted up on the wall somewhere. Once you’re connected, the man-in-the-middle can see what you’re doing online, he can steal information, he can also redirect you to malicious sites that infect your device and give him control of your device. If you do online shopping or online banking on your device, guess what else the bad guys can get? Yep, your banking information.
Ok, so what can we do about all of this? The obvious choice is to avoid free public wi-fi as much as possible. However, if you’re in a situation where you have to use it, be sure to use a VPN too. If you’ve got a good Internet protection suite at home, it should offer a VPN for your mobile devices too. VPNs use encryption and will help ensure all of your communications are safe from prying eyes.