Why Should You Be Careful When Using Public Wi-Fi?

Our at-home WiFi networks are usually quite safe, with connections being password protected and accessible to a select number of people. Although it is easy to forget the distinction between private and public networks and treat them the same way, we make ourselves vulnerable to attack. Anyone can join a public network that includes people innocently using free WiFi like you and hackers wishing to disrupt individuals' online access and potentially access private information. So why should we be cautious when using public WiFi, and how can we protect ourselves?

Someone could be monitoring your activity

Anyone with a little technical skill can easily monitor the web traffic going through a particular public network. The technical term for this activity is ‘packet sniffing’, in which someone gathers information on what people are browsing/ doing on a public network. Network or system admins use packet sniffing to assess the network's performance and identify glitches, but it can also be used for nefarious means. Hackers can use packet sniffing to capture, analyse and monitor specific types of traffic, possibly compromising your device. Packet sniffing can be used to:

  • Inject malware into a device, damaging or bugging it.
  • Spy on individuals or businesses to obtain data.
  • Initiate phishing via spam messaging or programming.
  • Monitor someone’s online behaviour for unethical means.

Hackers using packet sniffing love targeting unsecured, public WiFi hotspots and networks commonly found in hotels, airports, cafes, and public transport.

Someone could be manipulating your online activity

Whilst packet sniffing is a very real and serious threat, there is a slightly more sinister risk to be wary of when using public networks if a hacker wishes to take their activity up a notch. Hackers can perform ‘man-in-the-middle’ (MitM) attacks through clever engineering. In a MitM, a hacker becomes the middleman between your device and the internet provider, allowing them to assume cover of a hotspot or public network. This type of cyber attack is sometimes called the ‘Evil Twin Attack’ or ‘WiFi Phishing’, as a cyber criminal pretends to be the network you are trying to connect to. A hacker can monitor and edit your internet activity if you connect to a fake network. This allows them to steal your personal information, send you to fake websites, etc.

How can you stay safe on public networks?

One of the only ways to stay safe on a public network is to use additional phone or tablet security. Security software from Online Spy Shop protects your device from potential threats and tests and continually evaluates the new networks you join, ensuring your device is always safe. Cyber security professionals have expertly created our phone and tablet security software, ensuring any and all threats are identified before they can damage your device. If you are a frequent traveller, use a lot of public networks, or care about protecting your devices and personal data, this software is a must-have.