Public Wi-Fi Hotspot Security: Protect Yourself When Accessing the Web on the Go

by Klaus on November 25, 2019

in Security

Being able to connect to a public network at a mall or airport is just so convenient these days. We can work remotely, see the latest breaking news, or download content from Google Play Store. As many people know (and just outright ignore), though, is that public Wi-Fi is inherently risky. If you plan on connecting to an open hotspot, take precautions to avoid getting hacked on a wireless network.

Enterprises Also Need to Take Heed

Aside from individuals, we recommend companies establish the safety practices below as guidelines for their employees to follow outside their brick-and-mortar office. We stress this because most company staff share work-related data via personal devices and outside of office hours. This leaves company data vulnerable even when the tightest in-house IT security protocols are in place. A hacker only needs to gain access to an employee’s email, Skype, the company’s cloud system, or anywhere else where company-related information is exchanged.

Public Hotspots Are Hotbeds for Cyber-Attacks

The public just isn’t that well versed in wireless network security. According to a 2017 Symantec report, 60% of respondents indicated that they have little to no worries when using an open public Wi-Fi network. Even more alarming, 53% did not know how to distinguish a secure network from an insecure one. Furthermore, a report from One World Identity revealed that only 1% of public Wi-Fi users use a virtual private network (VPN) to protect their data.

It’s no surprise then that hackers exploit these vulnerabilities. Let’s explore some of the common attack vectors and how you can safeguard yourself if you absolutely must rely on public Wi-Fi.

Select the Correct Network

When you scroll to see the list of available networks, you may notice multiple networks similar in name. Be sure beforehand that you know the public area’s exact network name. Hackers are notorious for creating fake hotspots to try to get unsuspecting users to log into the wrong one. People tend to not really pay attention to the network name and just connect to whichever has the strongest signal.

Use a Secure Network

It’s easy to determine if a network is secure: secure networks have an icon of a padlock next to it. A password prompt will appear if you attempt to connect to the network. It’s not that much of a hassle to acquire the password from a clerk or employee. At hotels, you can acquire the password at the front desk. Most cafes and bars provide it upon ordering of an item. Going through the minor inconvenience of acquiring a password is a far safer bet.

Subscribe to a Public Wi-Fi Provider

Companies like Gogo and Boingo are examples of public Wi-Fi subscriptions. These companies provide hotspot access to thousands of select locations over the world. Of course, there’s a monthly fee, but if you’re a frequent public Wi-Fi user, these services provide a secure network and peace of mind.

Create Your Own Hotspot

If you’re traveling in a group, one person with a hefty data plan on his/her personal device can be the designated hotspot provider. This person will require a device that allows nearby phones, laptops, and tablets to tether to the device. The connection from tethering may not be the fastest, but it’s far more reliable from a security standpoint.

On Windows 10, you can enable tethering by going to:

Settings > Network & Internet > Mobile Hotspot

Distribute the network name and password to your group.

Tote Your Hotspot Along

An alternative to public Wi-Fi is a cellular modem hotspot. These are essentially portable and battery-operated modems for use as an external USB module. Cellular service providers like AT&T and LTE provide these portable modems for sale. They’re not cheap and run in the three-digit price range, but is a nice option for frequent travelers.

Safeguard Yourself in and Out the Office

This article is every bit for everyday Wi-Fi users as it is for business entities. For the latter, it’s a wakeup call to secure their own networks and to ensure that their own staff follows Web safety protocol even when not clocked in. All it takes is for one staff member’s connection to get compromised to put your entire company at risk. The bigger your enterprise with more employees the higher the odds of a breach.

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