First, a clarification. No, I’m not talking about the place where you go to get medical attention. In tech terms, a hospital is a public Wi-Fi network. We all know and love them because they are time-efficient and keep you active at all times.
You might want to check your email or make a last-hour transaction from your home-banking account, and the closest Wi-Fi connection seems like the fastest way to do that.
However, hackers love these places just as much, if not more than you do. This is because a public Wi-Fi is unencrypted, lacking in the most basic security measures. Anyone can connect to it, and with enough know-how in IT, you can invade other people’s devices and steal their information.
Hackers do that for a living, and the public Wi-Fi network is a honey pot for them. For example, the Norton Cybersecurity Insights Report that around 594 people all over the world were the victims of cybercrime, with 21% of Americans having their emails hacked.
And most of these things happened on a public Wi-Fi. It’s safe to say that these places are extremely risky, and you should avoid them like the death plague.
Let’s look over the most used attack patterns in this case:
- The MITM or the Man-in-the-Middle attack. This is basically someone interfering with the traffic between a user and the public Wi-Fi network. He manages to intercept the data packets before they reach their destination and since there is no encryption in place, he can easily get access to your personal information. Passwords, financial data, account logins, details about browsing activities, purchase transactions
The hacker will generally choose to display a fake version of the site you’re trying to access, but your private data and credentials will be automatically retained if you go along with it.
Most importantly, absolutely anyone using a public Wi-Fi network is vulnerable to this kind of attack. In order to decrease the risk of falling prey to a MITM attack, pay attention to any warning notifications about the website you’re currently on. Ideally, visit only sites encrypted with the HTTPS address (S stands for secure).
- A fake Wi-Fi connection or the rogue spot. This is the bigger, meaner sibling of the MITM attack. Specialists have dubbed it the “Evil Twin”. Essentially, a hacker sets up a fake access point which they intentionally name the same as a public Wi-Fi network. This can be done from any device, a smartphone, laptop, you name it.
As with the MITM attack, any data transmitted after connecting to the fake Wi-Fi network will be intercepted and tracked by the hacker. To avoid this risk, pay attention to similarly-named network connections, and if you have the slightest suspicion there might be hackers prowling about, alert any staff member close-by.
These are the main types of cyber-attacks used by hackers to weaponize any public Wi-Fi network. There are some things that you can do to decrease the risks, but there’s only one way to completely avoid all issues – don’t ever use a public Wi-Fi network.
There are too many uncertainties and the security there is exceedingly weak, so even if you do take the appropriate measures, hackers are inventive and possess a wide array of tools to make your life a living hell.
The only real measure you could take that would essentially nullify the dangers is using a Virtual Private Network, a VPN.
VPN – the ultimate cyber-shield
In short, a VPN establishes an encrypted tunneling protocol that protects your traffic entirely. From the moment the data packets leave the device source, they go straight to the destination by using a secure tunnel created by the VPN.
All your personal data and confidential information are kept safe at all time through the many security and encryption layers put in place.
What’s more, most VPNs will have special features that will allow you to use public Wi-Fi networks without worrying about any hackers butting in. Basically, whenever you connect to one such network, the VPN will automatically recognize it and enclose your data packets in added security layers.
The result – impregnable encryption and safe public Wi-Fi networks.
The main reason why hackers are nuts about hospitals is because of the almost non-existent security there. It’s essentially an eat-all-you-can buffet with no strings attached. Nothing prepares you for the all-out cyber-invasive attacks of a desperate hacker with nothing to lose.
For this reason, a VPN seems like the only logical choice. Specialists in the field argue that an online security provider will protect you from anything other than a nuclear strike. In terms of security issues, evidently.
You can also pay attention to the following things:
- When connected to public Wi-Fi networks, try to avoid logging in with your credentials to any websites that contain sensitive information. This includes networking sites, email, banking accounts, PayPal, and so on.
- Keep your phone or laptop up-to-date with all the new security patches. This will make it harder for any third party to install malware or send you invasive viruses through the network. At the very least, you’ll receive warning notifications if something’s wrong.
For example, Apple was forced at one time to warn its users that their devices were vulnerable to security attacks because the SSL encryption was compromised. They were forced to issue out new updates on the fly in order to avoid any security issues.
In the end, you have to maintain utmost attention when you connect to any public Wi-Fi network. If you really have to risk it, then consider having a VPN client installed on your device that protects you from any invasive attacks.
No matter how much they love these public networks, hackers will meet their match when confronted with a good VPN provider.