Who doesn't love public Wi-Fi? It keeps you connected on the go; it's available in places you frequently visit – shopping malls, hotels, railway stations, airports; and it's free, mostly. Isn't it just cool to save up on mobile data? So, who loves public Wi-Fi more than you?
Hackers! That's right.
Hacking on Public Wi-Fi is Rampant
People are now aware of their online security. Mobile phone data, private hotspots, and public Wi-Fi networks are the three main ways in which people stay connected on the move. Of these, the last one is the least secure. Your online safety is at its weakest when you log into free public hotspots.
When you use a public wireless network, your data is not encrypted, and that’s where the problem lies. Hackers can see all your online activities in two ways.
- They can hack public Wi-Fi. Since it’s open and available for anyone to connect to it, any hacker can be a part of the network and hack it. They can then read your data when you connect to the network.
- They can set up a rogue network with the same name as the network you trust. For example, if you connect to your local café’s Wi-Fi every day, they can setup a new Wi-Fi with the same name to fool you into connecting to it. Once you do, all your activities will be visible to them.
Free Wi-Fi does not need any authentication from your end. Neither does it offer any same level of protection. Hence, hackers can easily access your private information, including passwords, security codes, credit card info, and browser cookies.
They also distribute viruses and malware through unsecured open hotspots. And everyone knows the mayhem they can cause on your device. In universities or libraries or popular tourist spots, users can log into rogue Wi-Fi unknowingly.
So while you happily watch your favorite movie at the airport lounge, hackers might break into your phone and infect it. They can see what files you are sharing, copy your contacts, or corrupt your photos. In extreme cases, they can virtually seize control of your device.
But Is Mobile Data Safe?
Nothing is 100% safe. But compared to public Wi-Fi networks, mobile data is safer.
Mobile data is provided by the mobile connection provider. Your mobile data can only be used by you, except when you setup a mobile hotspot. Even then, if you setup a username and password, not everyone can log into it.
Since not everyone has access to your mobile data, it is more secure by its nature. Problem is, mobile data is mostly expensive.
Although it comes at a price, mobile data goes through layers of authentication. It is a secured connection, unlike public Wi-Fi.
Users are often tempted to save on data expenses so they link to free Wi-Fi. But “free” often makes them pay dearly. Your online activities and device can be exposed to hacking and malware.
So while mobile data isn’t exactly 100% safe, it is difficult to break into. Public W-Fi networks, on the other hand, are an easy target for hackers.
Mobile data authenticates your identity and is more resistant to hacking. Here's new age wisdom – when in doubt, switch to mobile data.
But what if you don’t have mobile data? What if something urgent comes up? You wouldn't ignore a client’s message for something as trifling as the unavailability of cellular data, would you?
5 Ways to use public Wi-Fi safely
Mobile data may not work the same everywhere. There may be additional charges if you are away from your home. Besides, many people have to rely on public Wi-Fi because they might be traveling outside the country and don’t have a SIM card.
Here are some steps to use public Wi-Fi safely.
Make an informed choice
Remember that the threat of hacking is real. Thousands of devices suffer from this cyber menace every year. Choose your Wi-Fi network wisely. Don’t rush to the first free wireless you find. There are several rogue wireless networks.
If you’re using a café’s wireless, ask them about their network. If you see 3-4 networks with their name, don’t assume all belong to them.
Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
A VPN will keep you protected by encrypting your connection. Also, it reroutes your data through one of its servers, making you go anonymous online.
When you connect to public wireless using a VPN, your activities will be safe, even if there are hackers on that network. And even if you do connect to a rogue network by mistake, your data will still stay safe if you’re using a VPN. We have compared and picked top 5 best VPN you can choose from.
Safeguard your device
While a VPN protects your moving traffic, anti-virus and anti-malware software will secure the files in your device. If malware does enter your device, your VPN won’t be able to secure it. So make sure you read about some good security programs and keep your device secure.
Mobile data > Public Wi-Fi
Mobile data is definitely more secure than a public wireless network. The former authenticates your online presence. However, if mobile data is not available, you can still use public Wi-Fi safely. Just verify the network and use a VPN. Also, avoid entering private information wherever possible.