Public Wi-Fi—To Browse or Not To Browse: We’ll Answer the Question

4 min read


By Karen Mesoznik, SaferVPN

What You Should Know About Public Wi-Fi

Usually when you’re preparing for an upcoming trip, your mind runs through the usual concerns and questions: “What vaccinations do I need?” “Is my passport up-to-date?” “What do I need to keep my cash and cards safe?” But if there’s one more travel habit you should have, or precaution you should take, it’s staying safe over public Wi-Fi.

Today, public Wi-Fi at airports, hotels and cafes, is a lot like water at a restaurant – it’s an expectation, not a gift, a commodity, not a luxury. But what if the restaurant you went to poured you a glass of unclean water? Water that ended up making you very, very sick?

Think of unsecured public Wi-Fi as tainted water waiting to pollute your personal data, internet privacy and online identity.

In fact, the risks are so great, that an International Travel Report released by Kaspersky Labs revealed that people are more likely to be robbed of their data than their travel money. One in five people, and 3 in 10 senior business managers, have been hit by cybercrime while abroad.

While public Wi-Fi hotspots at airports, hotels and cafes may seem harmless, they’re certainly not. These hotspots are often unsecured or have widely shared passwords, putting your personal information and valuable data at great risk.

The Many Public Wi-Fi Risks

Public Wi-Fi is not safe, and for many reasons.

A study by Kaspersky Lab, which analyzed more than 31 million Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide, found that a quarter of these networks do not use any form of encryption or password protection, meaning the information passed through them is completely open and can be read by third parties. Another 3% use WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) for encryption. This unreliable protocol can be cracked in a matter of minutes, using tools that can be found freely online. According to Extreme Networks, a Wi-Fi attack on an open network can take less than 2 seconds.

Hackers have a variety of tricks up their sleeves when it comes to swiping your data online. They can use a Man in the Middle (MiTM) attack to spy on, intercept or alter your outgoing data, packet sniffing to capture packets of data that pass through the network and Evil Twin attacks to trick you into connecting to rogue, yet seemingly legitimate, Wi-Fi networks. Once that happens, you can likely kiss your personal account details, credit card information, private photos and confidential exchanges goodbye.

And then there are the Pineapples. Nope — not the tropical ones you eat, but the devices that hackers use to generate spoofed sites. So while you believe you’re safely browsing on an HTTPS encrypted website, you’re actually handing over your personal information to the dark side.

But there’s one enormous risk, one that’s much less pinpointed yet equally as dangerous, and that’s our plain and simple desire to ignore all the potential threats and just connect anyway.

Our Urge to Connect and Why Standard Solutions Just Aren’t Enough

When it comes to public Wi-Fi, we just can’t resist.

Norton’s Wi-Fi Risk Report revealed that despite all the risks, the use of public Wi-Fi is nearly universal, with 86% of consumers globally having used public Wi-Fi on at least one of their devices. As a matter of fact, 75% of people say 1 week without Wi-Fi would leave them grumpier than 1 week without coffee.

To make matters more complicated, Public Wi-Fi has only become more and more available. Cisco’s Visual Network report revealed that the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots is expected to grow to 7 times the 2015 figure, from 64 million to 432 million by 2020.

A VPN, Virtual Private Network, is currently one of the simplest and most effective measures to keep your personal information safe online. A VPN allows you to set up a private, secure connection to another network, and browse through an encrypted tunnel, so your data can’t be intercepted.

However, for a VPN to work, it requires activation. Users have to actively connect to a service to experience the benefits. And this is where the problem lies.

First of all there’s awareness. Fifty-seven percent of people, more than half, believe their personal information is safe over public Wi-Fi, and only 1 in 3 people can even tell the difference between a secure and unsecured public Wi-Fi network.

Then, there’s automatic Wi-Fi connections. Many devices on the market allow you, out of convenience, to automatically join or rejoin the closest or strongest available Wi-Fi network. However, if your device automatically connects to an unsecured Wi-Fi hotspot, and you’re not aware of it, there’s little a dormant VPN app can do.

The Solution We Need: Automatic and Proactive Wi-Fi Security

So what’s the best solution? If you know you can’t resist the urge to connect (like many of us), seek out services that offer automatic protection.

Recognizing the lack of intuitive Wi-Fi security for the everyday netizen, one VPN provider, SaferVPN, has introduced Automatic Wi-Fi Security, a feature that makes security over public Wi-Fi accessible and automatic.

“Understandably, for many people, the urge to connect to the Internet often overrides their concern for online safety — but it can certainly come at a high price,” says Amit Bareket, SaferVPN Co-Founder and CEO. “So we felt it was very important that we develop a feature that would provide individuals with absolute and immediate data protection, without them having to lift a finger or think twice.”

With this new technology, the moment a person’s device connects to unsecured Wi-Fi, an encrypted VPN channel is activated automatically. The app also sends individuals a notification, so that they’re aware that they’ve connected to an unsecured network and their data is being protected.

While SaferVPN’s app provides a holistic means of defense against network-based risks, there are also apps that offer proactive security by addressing specific Wi-Fi threats. Several apps on the market, like WiFi ARP Guard, ARP Guard and WiFiGuard, instantly alert users to possible Man in the Middle attacks and provide them with the option to disable their Wi-Fi connection immediately.

In today’s digital age, where we have the ability to always remain connected, it’s unrealistic to think that we’ll never take advantage of free and convenient Wi-Fi hotspots. Given that truth, it’s time the conversation moves from “Never connect to public Wi-Fi!” to: “Make sure you have the right tools to use public Wi-Fi safely and smartly.” New and innovative solutions are making this critical shift possible.

Karen Mesoznik is the Head of Marketing Communications at SaferVPN

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