In today's digital age, a moment without an internet connection is difficult to fathom. We use the internet for millions of little day-to-day activities, like social networking, reading emails, shopping for clothes, and making business transactions. Thousands of photos and documents, many of which are sensitive, are disseminated worldwide using the internet. While sharing such sensitive information, we often do not consider the safety of the network we are using. One such type of unsafe network is the formidable public Wi-Fi.
Since mobile data networks can be unreliable, the constant need for speedy internet has been replaced by public wireless networks. These networks are available everywhere – from popular places like hotels, malls, and airports to quaint cafes and bookstores. In fact, the public Wi-Fi ecosystem is expanding at an unprecedented rate, courtesy of local governments. While the idea of cozying up in a coffee shop with your laptop to get some work done or increasing your productivity in transit may sound appealing, the risks presented by connecting to public Wi-Fi are numerous.
Fortunately, there is a comprehensive primer to understand the risks of public wi-fi use and how to circumvent them.
Am I a target?
The first question that pops up in anyone's mind is: "Am I a target? Is there anything sensitive on my device?"
While this may be a valid concern, the reality is much more complex. Even if there are no private bank details or intimate photos on your device, you can still be a hacker's target. This is because even your digital footprint, including the websites you visit, your searches on Google, and whom you follow on Instagram, is valuable information to businesses and the government.
Unfortunately, avoiding having a digital footprint altogether is nearly impossible. Therefore, to keep your digital identity safe from a data breach, it is important to familiarise yourself with the risks and defenses of public Wi-Fi.
Connecting to public Wi-Fi is a risk for more than one reason. There are many threats, but here is a quick primer to the most common ones for your benefit.
Malware or malicious software, according to Microsoft, is used as a catch-all term to refer to any software designed to cause damage to a single PC, server, or PC network, whether it is a virus, spyware, and so on. These malicious programs are written to penetrate the defenses of your device, take control of it, and retrieve private information.
There are several ways malware can penetrate your defenses. Trojans and viruses are often disguised as email attachments or links on websites. The intention is to trick users into downloading malware in these phishing emails and websites. Malvertising poses a serious problem that can only be dealt with by using multi-device security software. Websites often display malicious advertisements that download malware when the user clicks on the webpage. Infected storage devices like unreliable flash drives can transfer malware to your device. Additionally, if you do not update your software regularly, malware infection is a possibility.
One of the most common threats is Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attack which is similar to eavesdropping. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, it is an attack where the adversary positions himself in between the user (Point A) and the system (Point B) so that he can intercept and alter data traveling in between—which means your photos, your transactions and documents are no longer private. Additionally, unencrypted networks make your information even more vulnerable.
Speaking of which, Microsoft describes encryption as the process of translating plain text data (plaintext) into something that appears to be random and meaningless (ciphertext). A survey by NowSecure revealed that 35% of all conversations sent by mobile devices are unencrypted. The prying eyes of hackers, attackers, and such can access your digital footprint, intimate details, and sensitive information in this process.
Keeping your information protected from malicious programs and attackers involves staying updated and taking a few precautions. Here are a few simple steps to safeguard your privacy:
Install An Antivirus Software
The most efficient way to protect your privacy on unsecured networks is to install antivirus software. An antivirus blocks malware like trojans and adware protects your identity from theft, phishing, and fraud, and keeps your data encrypted. All in all, an antivirus is a package solution to keeping you safe from being compromised.
The market is flooded with antivirus software which means options are aplenty. Some are free while some are paid. When it comes to cybersecurity, free antivirus options should not be underestimated. In fact, many world leaders in cybersecurity provide their solutions free of cost. All software differs from each other in terms of price, performance, and functions.
While choosing the kind of antivirus software you want, you might feel a little confused. In case you find yourself in a fix, scour the internet, research, match your preferences and shortlist antivirus software that fits your needs. Ideally, it should include speedy customer service, including warranty, it should work on multiple devices seamlessly, and it should garner a largely positive user experience.
Use SSL Connections
Whenever we use the internet, we are greeted with URLs starting with HTTP or HTTPS. The extra 's' in the latter is a security measure to ensure the connection is secure and data is encrypted. This technology is named Secure Sockets Layer, aka SSL; it ensures the data shared between the browser and server remains private. It uses a combination of private key encryption and public-key encryption alongside cryptographic functions to maximize security. It uses a mechanism to encrypt and authenticate data sent between systems. SSL ensures a secure exchange of data by using an SSL certificate. For optimum safety, make sure to use SSL connections exclusively.
Set Up A VPN
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) establishes a protected network connection that encrypts your data and disguises your online identity. In simple words, it prevents unauthorized actors from eavesdropping on your data. This means even your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is restricted from accessing your data. While your ISP may convince you that it provides a trustworthy network, they may share your browsing history with advertising corporations or the State. A premium VPN encrypts your internet traffic, protocols and uses a kill switch. It encrypts your network by establishing a tunnel across the internet. The traffic that flows through the tunnel is safeguarded. Virtual Private Networks provide secure remote access. This means VPN technology uses strict ways to authenticate a user or device. All in all, a Virtual Private Network offers the best of both worlds – privacy and security.
Increase Password Security
Passwords are key to accessing vulnerable information about you – ranging from your bank details to your private emails. It is human to desire convenience – after all the remembering, a couple of passwords is much easier than committing dozens of them to memory. However, what seems like convenience is one of the easiest challenges for a hacker to overcome.
Lesson number one in cybersecurity is how to overcome password vulnerabilities. Passwords used normally are either easy to guess, not changed very often, or reused across systems. Additionally, more often than not, passwords are written down in unsecured places.
The easiest way to strengthen your password and avoid a data breach is to create complex passwords, avoid the English language and reveal as little personal information about you as possible.
The digital era is upon us, and the internet has changed the way we lead our lives. With conveniences like public Wi-Fi come risks that can put your privacy in a vulnerable spot. To safeguard your private information, follow these simple yet necessary steps.