How secure are you when using public wifi?

Posted on Oct 17 2014 - 11:03am by Eric Tompkins

public wifi security

By Eric Tompkins / @_codemics

So, your at your local coffee shop getting your morning coffee and bagel, grabbing your favorite seat you connect to the public wifi as you always do. Without you even realizing it, you have just sent your private information into the hands of a hacker.

What you do not realize is that there is a hacker broadcasting a fake WiFi signal from his own router in the store and he is now capturing your data and web traffic to his laptop. This can happen quite easily and most times without your knowledge. Today’s smartphones normally auto-connect to any open WiFi connection that is available. So, without your knowledge you could be connected to a “fake” network and be at risk of getting your personal data exploited.

How to hack public wifi

First, the hacker connects to the public WiFi himself to get his own internet access. He then connects a portable battery powered router to his laptop and broadcasts an SSID as “FREE WiFi” or something of that nature to lure unknowing victims to connect. Once the victim is connected, their internet traffic is “sniffed” or captured by the hacker. He can then decrypt this traffic and pull out passwords, links, financial data, etc. He can also inject your computer with malware.

Most of us use our laptops and smartphones to access our bank accounts, pay bills, store personal information and more. All of the data is now vulnerable to the attacker and can be stolen.

How to protect yourself

Connect securely. Never connect to an unfamiliar wireless network — even if the name sounds genuine. A hacker can change the name of his network to anything he wants, including the name of the legitimate Internet connection offered by the coffee shop or establishment.

Disable automatic connections. Make sure that your computer or smartphone is not set up to automatically connect to any wireless networks within your range. Otherwise, your could automatically connect to the hacker’s network without your knowledge.

Turn off file sharing when you are on the road to prevent hackers from stealing sensitive data from your computer. Turn off the Wi-Fi hotspot on your device so others cannot sign onto your network.

Create a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN establishes a private network across the public network which prevents a hacker from intercepting your data. If your mobile device has a Wi-Fi hotspot feature, you definitely need a VPN to prevent other people from accessing the Internet via your mobile device. ProXPN has an affordable solution and offers a free version as well here

Enable your firewall, especially for public networks. In fact, Windows will enable its firewall settings by default if you tell it to during set up. If you’re not sure if it’s on, open Control Panel, then Windows Firewall, and make sure you’re screen looks like the one below.

Add a Security Browser Extension I would recommend is HTTPS Everywherefrom the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). This allows you to have a secure connection when you visit common sites like Google, Yahoo, ebay, Amazon, and more. It also allows you to create your own XML config file to add more sites not listed. It’s available for both Chrome and Firefox and works with Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Here is a great list of Security Extensions for the Google Chrome browser.

Keep your software updated it’s important to ensure your antivirus and malware protection is up-to-date, as well as your operating system. Operating system updates not only keep your system running smoothly, but they also patch security holes.

Always remember that noone is 100 percent secure on the internet. But the more layers of security you add, the better protected you’ll be. This post is not meant to scare you away from public wifi, just learn to be safe when doing so.

About the Author

Eric Tompkins is an Experienced Web Developer and Digital Media Professional. As well as a Professional Photographer and Technical Instructor. You can follow on Twitter @_codemics.