In the era when cybercrime is flourishing, public WiFi has become a golden opportunity for various types of criminals. A recent survey shows that 79% of public WiFi users take significant risks when choosing their WiFi connection. They select a hotspot for its WiFi strength, go for a name that sounds appropriate, or simply pick any free option.
However, public places make a good cover for hackers who can easily set up malicious hotspots and steal people’s personal data. Daniel Markuson, the digital privacy expert at NordVPN, spoke about the risks of unsafe public WiFi with a couple of hackers in closed online forums. They agreed to share their expertise in exchange for remaining anonymous.
What makes public WiFi unsafe
All the hackers agreed on two common points that can make any public WiFi hotspot vulnerable. These are poor router configuration and a lack of a strong password.
With dozens or even thousands of people in a public place, a snooper is in a perfect position to look for their prey without being noticed. It doesn’t take much to start the vicious process: normally the attackers would use pretty basic and easy-to-use software, which is legal to get. The skilled hackers name Wireshark and Aircrack-ng as good examples. They claim it can take a couple of minutes to start peeking at confidential information sent from a device connected to an unsecure WiFi.
The worst part of being attacked is that the victim might not even notice their gadget has been hijacked. If you’re lucky, the snooper may just read your browsing activity. But in the worst-case scenario, they can steal all your sensitive information, including passwords and credit card details.
Did you know that your home WiFi name gives away your address? As your device is constantly looking for trusted WiFi networks, stalkers can use these connection requests to find out where you live. All they need to do is find an open public space and set up a tiny scanner that passively collects all nearby WiFi join requests. Warning from the anonymous hackers: anyone who knows your home WiFi name can find out where you live. It’s enough to type it on a public website that creates heatmaps of WiFi hotspots, such as Wigle.net.
Types of hacker attacks on public WiFi
The anonymous hackers explain the most common types of cyberattacks that can be launched on insecure public WiFi networks:
How to stay safe
According to Markuson, the digital privacy expert at NordVPN, it is better to stay away from public WiFi and use your mobile data instead. However, if there’s no other choice, here are some useful tips on what you should do to protect your devices and the information they hold.
Markuson recommended being extra cautious about connecting to any WiFi hotspot in a public place. To save your private information, traffic, and browsing data as well as to protect yourself from possible identity theft, stay away from unsafe networks or use VPN, like NordVPN.