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Connecting Safely to a Public Wi-Fi Hotspot

Friday, December 02, 2022 by Charles Karakas

Connecting Safely to a Public Wi-Fi Hotspot

Public Wi-Fi is becoming increasingly popular as people rely on their mobile devices to stay connected while away from home. Accessing the internet via this type of network is convenient, but it comes with security risks. When using public Wi-Fi, you are essentially sharing the network with strangers, which can leave your data vulnerable to attacks. This opens you up to dangers that range from harm due to malicious software to full on identity theft. That said; it’s important that you connect safely when using a public Wi-Fi hotspot. Here’s what you need to do; 

What Is a Hotspot? 

A hotspot is an Internet access point that lets you connect to an available Wi-Fi network using your laptop, tablet or smartphone when you are away from your office or home wireless Internet network. You’ll find public Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee shops, restaurants, airports and other places where people tend to gather. 

Public hotspots are typically free to use, although in some cases you’ll have to be a patron or guest to use the connection. Many connections are open whilst others do require a password (this password is typically shared with everyone).  

Are Free Internet Hotspots Secure?

Accessing the Internet via a free public hotspot is not the same as logging onto the Internet from your secure, encrypted home wireless network. Many individuals wonder are hotspots secure, and the short answer is no, they are not.

wifi security

There are several vulnerabilities and dangers that can arise when you use public Wi-Fi. Some of these include: 

  • Man-in-the-Middle Attack (MITM) 

On a public Wi-Fi connection, the information you send is generally unencrypted. This opens you up to MITM attacks. Rather than data just going between you and a website you are visiting, a hacker inserts themselves between you and the Internet. In some cases, they may even connect you to a page that looks similar to a site you intended to visit. They can then steal your logon credentials and access your financial and personal accounts. 

  • Evil Twin  

When you are out and about and using public Wi-Fi hotspots, it’s critical that you connect to a legitimate network. One common trick used by hackers is the Evil Twin attack. You might see a connection like “Free Airport Wifi”, but that might be a bogus hotspot set up with malicious intent. If individuals connect to the fake Access Point, then hackers can see and steal all of their data. You think you are connecting to secure public wifi, but in reality, you are handing the keys to your data kingdom directly to a hacker. 

  • Packet Sniffing 

Hackers can use free software to read the unencrypted data packets that are sent over a public Wi-Fi network. They’ll be able to see things like the pages you visited and data you entered on a site using HTTP protocol. With a data packet analyser, the hacker can see your forum postings, text messages and even your login information. Once they have access to your login credentials, they can actually change your password and lock you out of your own accounts. 

  • Sidejacking (Session Hijacking) 

While packet sniffing allows a third-party to review your data at their leisure, sidejacking uses the same technique to grab your data in real time, on location. When you log on to a secure site, the website typically authenticates you and then sends you a session cookie. This cookie might not be encrypted. A hacker who can access this cookie can use it to open a session on the website using your pre-approved credentials. From there they can access your personal and financial information. 

Steps You Should Take to Protect Your Data When Using a Public Wi-Fi 

While connecting to a secure home or business network is safer than using a public Wi-Fi hotspot, you can learn more about how to use public Wi-Fi safely. There are some general rules that can help minimise your risk in the uncertain environment presented by public Wi-Fi. 

Turn Off Automatic Connectivity Functions 

Before you connect to public Wi-Fi, you should turn off all the functions on your laptop, tablet or smartphone that allow you to connect automatically with public networks or other devices. This would include features such as Bluetooth, AirDrop and file and printer sharing. 

Enable Antivirus Software and Firewalls 

When you activate firewalls and antivirus software on your device, you’ll receive a warning if you come into contact with suspicious files or websites as you browse the Internet. Bypass any suspect websites, as they may be set up by hackers who are trying to get your information. 

Choose Your Public Wi-Fi Access Spots Carefully 

If you are looking for how to stay safe on public wifi, it helps to look for a password protected network that is associated with a high profile, low volume location. An access point associated with a national or global brand, say in a coffee shop, will likely have far less traffic than a wide-open setting like an airport. Low traffic and a more secure setting are always better. 

Verify Website Security 

In general, you should only connect to secure websites when you are browsing via public Wi-Fi. If you look at your browser address bar, secure sites are denoted by HTTPS as the prefix. An HTTPS website uses a Secure Sockets Layer Certificate to encrypt your data as it goes from your browser to the website server. 

Do Not Enter Personal Information on Any Public Wi-Fi 

You should never enter personal information, access financial sites or go shopping over public Wi-Fi hotspots. If you need to do any of these activities while you are away from home, make sure you create a secure connection using your mobile device or simply wait until you return home. 

How to Connect to a Free Internet Hotspot 

It’s simple to connect to a free Internet hotspot. Basically, you just make sure that Wi-Fi is active on your device and then select the appropriate network. Once you select the network on your computer, phone or tablet, you may be asked to opt-in and agree to the terms and conditions associated with the connection. 

If you are looking to connect from just about anywhere, Melita offers over 75,000 hotspots across the Maltese Islands. They are free to use, and all Internet customers get 20GB of free data access each month whilst mobile customers can get Endless MelitaWiFi with no data limit every month. Not only Melita postpaid Endless plan customers get unlimited data every month but even having prepaid SIM like Pockit or Djuno can give you secure WiFi connection with Endless data with specific very affordable bundles. You can easily connect to a MelitaWiFi hotspot using your mobile number or MyMelita

Charles Karakas

Charles Karakas