It is possible that you will connect to a public, unsecure (otherwise called ‘open’) Wi-Fi network at some point in your life, if you haven’t done this already. The chances are that you have already done this hundreds and/or thousands of times.
Unfortunately, when you do this, you risk exposing everything you have on your mobile device or PC to hackers.
How hackers steal your sensitive data
When you try to access a website, your web browser / smartphone app first sends a request for web-page content access to the web server hosting that site. This request contains both the source IP address of your computer or mobile device as well as the destination IP address of the web server. When the web server approves your request, it sends data back to your computer. Data is always transferred in small chunks, it first being broken down into ‘packets’, and then re-assembled at the destination. This is for better user experience – you don’t have to wait for all the data to arrive before the complete page is shown to you. This can be time-consuming and frustrating.
Unfortunately, data packets also contain source and destination IP addresses. On an open, public Wi-Fi network, anyone connected to it can see which sites are being accessed by others connected to the network (they can see who exactly) at any given point of time. There are 3.5 billion users worldwide, and hackers don’t target everyone, only those computers/devices that are likely to have sensitive data – and this is determined by looking at what websites are accessed by these laptops, tablets or smartphones. The chances are high that you have confidential data if you connect to a secured office network. You are also likely to possess a banking login/password or credit card information if you visit internet banking sites or shopping sites respectively. A greater amount of data transfer between your computer/device and these sites only confirms the fact. This is seen from the large number of data packets – this is how they distinguish between users and casual visitors to websites.
With a VPN or Virtual Private Network, a physical VPN server stands between you and the internet. All inbound and outbound web traffic is encrypted by the server, so any hackers on an open public Wi-Fi network cannot see which websites you access. This is how you can protect yourself and your data from hackers and their attacks.