For over a decade now, businesses have been offering free WiFi in their stores to increase customer footfalls and spends. Open WiFi hotspots are commonplace at airports, hotels, coffee shops, and malls, and allow people to access the internet for free. Since WiFi hotspots are so common now, people don’t even think twice before accessing them. However, any online activity where a user must log-in with personally identifiable information—phone number, password, email ID—can be risky.
Often, public hotspots are open in nature—you don’t require a password to access it—and therefore, attractive for hackers. Any website or webpages that you visit on these open networks are visible to hackers and they can easily snoop around or worse hijack your session. This is the man-in-the-middle attack in its simplest form. Even if you were to access encrypted websites such as your bank website, there are software that hackers use to redirect the HTTPS links to a look-alike HTTP link. This spoofed website is designed with a similar look and feel but with a malicious intent of stealing your information.
It is also possible that the open WiFi network, you are accessing, is infected with compromised devices. These devices can exploit weaknesses in operating systems to infect and/or surreptitiously plant malware on your device. The open WiFi network may well be a honeypot, which has been purposely set-up by hackers to lure unsuspecting users. Once the users begin using the network, the hackers capture and analyze the traffic to harvest personal details, financial information, and/or passwords, and even compromise the device to use it for other crimes.
Despite the many security risks that open WiFi networks present to the users, they are useful for the on-the-go professionals who may need to send an urgent email or presentation. For such users, it is essential that they take enough preventive measures to protect themselves when using open WiFi networks. Using a virtual private network (VPN) is a good idea when accessing business network through non-secured connection. Disable the ‘Sharing’ option and consider enabling the ‘Always Use HTTPS’ as it provides an added layer of protection to your communication in the form of encryption. If you are in the vicinity of open networks, keep your WiFi off even if you do not intend to connect, as the WiFi hardware on the device can continue to transmit data to the nearby networks.
The article has been written by Neetu Katyal, Content and Marketing Consultant
She can be reached on LinkedIN.