Whether it’s to check social media or Google Maps the way to our next destination, we’ve all been that tourist. Yup, the kind who hangs out at hotel lobbies and random roadside stores to use free wifi. And while you may think there’s nothing wrong with that—after all, we’re just scrolling through Instagram and at most, replying some urgent work emails—you’re actually exposing yourself to a whole lot of security risks!
WiFi Security—Why you should worry about it
Rule of thumb: If it’s good for you, it’s good for the hackers. Free wifi services provided by stores, restaurants, and the likes are usually designed to be easy to use: Simply search for the network, click, and connect! There’s usually no password required, and you can get connected instantly. While this is great for desperate travellers dying to get on Instagram, it’s also very dangerous as it’s equally accessible to the hackers.
At home or at work, your internet is typically encrypted. Encryption with a password is the first line of defense for any network, and how it works is that any data transmitted via the network is done so in a “special code” that outsiders cannot understand (deciphering it requires the password).
But for free public wifi networks, there’s usually no encryption (password). That means your activities are clearly visible to anyone and everyone in range. They can see what pages you’re visiting and what you’re filling into forms (including your password). You risk “Man in the Middle” attacks, whereby your traffic is spied on and intercepted, stealing your credentials and other sensitive information. There are tons of software readily available for hackers, and they can do things like create copycat URLs (to trick you into thinking they’re legitimate), and spread malware to infect your devices.
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Malicious Networks: They’re deliberately out to get you!
Aside from simply insecure networks, there are some that are inherently malicious, and were designed to steal from you. You usually can’t tell from the name (duh, they won’t be named “Malicious Software”…); in fact, they’re usually named something generic like “free public wifi” to get you to connect to it.
Of course, in view of all these risks, it’s best not to do any banking or activities that involve sensitive data at all. And if you must use a public network, here are some tips to better protect yourself:
#1 Use encrypted sites only.
If you can’t use an encrypted network, use a secure site. URLs with “https” instead of “http” are encrypted, protecting your data.
#2 Avoid apps because you can’t tell if it’s secure/ encrypted.
When using browsers to surf, you can look for “https” sites. But what happens when you’re using a mobile app…? You won’t be able to tell if it’s secure or not, so to be safe, don’t use it.
#3 Disable file-sharing.
Once you connect to the public network, select the “Public” network profile. If it’s set as your “Home” or “Work”, your device may be open to sharing files and/or information.
#4 Switch off WiFi when you’re not using it.
You shouldn’t leave your wifi on unnecessarily, as there are software that trick your device into auto-connecting to it, leaving you and your information vulnerable to attack. As an added boon, this is great for your battery life too!
#5 Find out the exact network name from the restaurant or hotel staff.
As mentioned earlier, a lot of bogus networks are strategically named to get you to connect to it. It may be spelt exactly the same as the establishment’s complimentary wifi, just with different characters or in a different case. As such, it’s always best to ask the staff for the exact network name before connecting to it.
The scary thing is that it’s hard to tell if you’re being spied on or not…
unless you are using a snooping software to spy on yourself. This is why if you can, it’s best to avoid free wifi hot spots altogether. If you need to stay connected on the go, you can opt for ChangiWiFi, whereby you loan a portable WiFi router for your trip. This way, you can ensure you are using a secure network, so you can rest assured that your data is safe.
Book your ChangiWiFi here: goo.gl/iSwgs1
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