Don’t Trust Public Wi-Fi Blindly
Sometimes, hackers create Wi-Fi hotspots with names like ‘Guest’ or even the name of the coffee shop they are sitting in, like ‘Starbucks Guest Wi-Fi’ when the original is ‘Starbucks Wi-Fi’. This makes you think that the latter is meant for employees, and it is the former that is meant for customers like you, prompting you to connect to a hacker’s network instead.
Tip – Always ask for the name of the Wi-Fi network.
It is possible that the place you are visiting does not offer free Wi-Fi at all. In such a case, an open, unsecured network by the name of ‘Guest’ or ‘Coffee Shop’ only makes it more enticing. It might not occur to you to cross-check if there is only one Wi-Fi network available. So it is a good idea to check with a member of the staff that if they do offer free Wi-Fi before proceeding to ask the name of their Wi-Fi network.
Sometimes, this suggestion may not be practical when there is so much of a crowd that you have to stand 20 minutes in line just for a cup of coffee. This is indeed the situation at many popular coffee shops. It would be best not to connect to any Wi-Fi network at all and err on the side of caution but you may really need to access the internet. In such a case, you can indeed connect to the public Wi-Fi available, but be on your guard if a pop-up appears, on the lines of ‘Subscribe to our mailing list and get 50% off on your bill’. If there is a link below this, simply hover your mouse over it (without clicking on it), and don’t be surprised if you find a strange URL at the bottom of your browser.
A hacker getting his/her hands on your email address is one step closer to you being attacked – and it is estimated that one in five Australians have already been victims of such attacks.
If you must use Wi-Fi, don’t login to any site, as in not anything that requires you to enter a login name and password – the hacker may be eavesdropping in. You don’t have any control over what kind of security and/or encryption the public Wi-Fi network has, but you can always see to it that you visit only HTTPS sites instead of HTTP sites.
The VPN advantage
If you use a Virtual Private Network, you can protect yourself completely. A VPN server comes in between you and the internet, and hackers will not be able to ‘see’ or analyse any inbound/outbound data traffic – everything will be encrypted. All hackers get is one IP address – that of a highly secure VPN server – and a string of ‘junk’, or random characters. It would take them a million years to decrypt the data using the technology available today.