Is Public WiFi Dangerous?
It’s really no secret that using public WiFi can bring up a lot of concerns, specifically with regards to safety and security. There could be a lot of snooping done without your knowledge, or someone may try to get into your device on an unsecure network. To save yourself from any of this trouble, we recommend using ExpressVPN, and we’ll explain why as we dive deeper into this article.
What are the risks involved?
Even those who are not tech-savvy enough today are aware that it’s not safe to use a WiFi that’s available for free in a public setup. But thankfully, things have changed significantly today, and no longer are public WiFi spots considered that dangerous. However, there have still been cases of devices being snooped on by the ISP (internet service provider) or by a third-party. Most websites today come with a verified HTTPS signature. However, it’s very likely that you will eventually come across a site that uses an unsecure HTTP signature instead. Browsers today can immediately tell you when you’re headed towards an unprotected site so that you can take necessary precautions accordingly. This is thanks to the HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) protocol that can tell web browsers when a link is not certified and caution the users accordingly. But if you still press on and continue to visit the site anyway, you may be at the risk of being exposed or being snooped on.
Don’t disclose too much information
This is one of those aspects that goes without saying but is still important to specify given the ambiguity surrounding how much a source can take off of your devices. If you’re at a restaurant or a cafe that offers free WiFi, be wary of sharing private information or any financial information such as credit card details or social security numbers and so on. Limit your public WiFi session to just casual browsing, or checking emails through an app. Basically, it’s safe not to disclose any information that you want to protect at all times, including passwords to your social media accounts. Furthermore, it makes sense to limit your usage to trusted WiFi hotspots. This means signing up for only a few public WiFi hotspots, thus limiting the chance of being exposed to any dangers of malware or leaking of private information. You will also realize that some store and restaurants brands recognize your credentials to provide free WiFi access across all outlets. It’s safe to consider your options before signing up for one of these. Thankfully, several banks and even social media sites now offer a system called two-factor authentication or 2FA which requires a password, as well as a limited-time password, sent on your registered mobile number via text. This can solve a lot of the problems that one can encounter while using banking or other sensitive apps.
If you’re at a WiFi hotspot that asks for an email to connect or authenticate your device, it’s always a better idea to share a secondary email address that doesn’t contain your private information. Some hotspots can even ask for your mobile number. It’s recommended not to use these services too much, although it’s unavoidable in some places like airports.
Don’t download or install files from unknown sources
We all go through the temptation of downloading large files when on a free WiFi network. However, this is a risky affair as some sites that offer these files also contain malware hidden with them. If you’re using a laptop, this could potentially compromise all information on the device. Smartphones are not all that safe either given the new kind of exploits that are turning up quite frequently. The same can be said about installing new apps as well. Unless you absolutely have to download that app or software on a public WiFi network, it’s always safe to refrain.
Make sure you read the T&C before signing up
Each public hotspot has its own terms and conditions that the users can read before signing up. However, one would be hard-pressed to go through the entire T&C given how long it can be. However, this is known to be one of the best ways of staying safe from malware or spyware in an environment that only has free public WiFi. Given the transparency laws in many places of the world, companies are required to tell the customers if their data will be gathered or used for something else. So by going through the terms briefly, you can be somewhat relieved. However, recent history suggests that companies have come up with ingenious ways to get into your data without mentioning it in the terms and conditions, so these precautions may not work in all circumstances.
What kind of snooping can still happen?
As we’ve mentioned above, sometimes no amount of safeguards can save you while online. This is illustrated by the fact that in a public WiFi setting, people can still have access to your DNS requests that reveal the websites you’ve visited. However, this will only reveal the website you’ve visited but not the specific link that you clicked on. So even if it’s just basic info on your browsing history, this can be a privacy nightmare for many. These snoopers can also learn how much data has been transferred over your device, which won’t reveal much in terms of private information.
Ever heard of a “man in the middle” attack? Well, this can occur in a situation where you’re using a compromised WiFi hotspot that takes you to a fake site that’s masked as the real thing (ex: bank sites, social networking sites, etc). So when you enter your username and password, the malicious software can capture the details which will then be used to compromise your information. Thankfully, none of this can happen over an HTTPS connection, so it can always help to be extra careful about which website you’re visiting. These increasing risks of phishing and malware attacks are also why Windows computers come with a firewall by default that tends to limit your options while connecting to a public WiFi network.
However, the same can’t be said about mobile apps. Given the sheer number of mobile apps we use on a daily basis, it’s hard to independently confirm if all of them validate certificates accurately so that you’re not exposed to security and data breaches. Common sense dictates that every app needs to have a system in place that can easily distinguish between safe and suspicious sites.
Despite this, it makes sense to only install apps from trusted developers. Further, you can search for an app on search engines or forums like XDA to see if they have any potential security threats. Over the years, we’ve seen both Android and iPhone apps being removed from their respective app hubs over security concerns. This illustrates that even the smartphone manufacturers can be ill-equipped to handle issues like security, particularly when it comes to app submissions which can be hundreds and thousands each day.
Don’t share files over Bluetooth or apps
This is yet another factor that’s extremely crucial in making sure none of your personal data is compromised. There are several apps today that use a WiFi connection to establish a network between two devices and thus help share large files quickly. Files are transferred significantly faster on WiFi than on Bluetooth which explains why this is one of the most preferred methods of file transfer today. If you’re using an iPhone, you need to make sure you’re not sending documents over AirDrop on a public network as this uses the same network. AirDrop files can be sent to any other compatible device as long as they have their device visible. So make sure you head over to the Settings and change the ‘Allow me to be discovered by’ option to ‘No one’.
Will things get better in the future?
Well, things probably won’t change that quickly or even this year, but there are some good technologies in the offing. Over the next few years, we will see the rollout of WPA3 Wi-Fi security protocol which is the next-generation in terms of WiFi security, offering more robust WiFi solutions even in public setups. But as we’ve seen now, despite there being enough security safeguards, malware will still make its way through. It’s up to the teams working on these technologies to stay one step ahead of those that wish to steal information from the public. But one thing can be said for certain, the future does hold great promise for what’s to come, particularly with regard to WPA3 Wi-Fi security.
Other things to keep in mind
While nobody can perform all the safety checks that we’ve mentioned in this article, there are some crucial ones to keep in mind at all times. Firstly, make sure you forget a public WiFi network by going to your Settings. This will avoid automatic connection the next time, while the network may have been compromised, thus putting your device at risk of exposing sensitive data.
Sometimes you can be in a place where they have a public WiFi hotspot but you can’t quite tell if it’s a safe network. Well, in situations like these, it always makes sense to use your smartphone as a personal hotspot. Given that it establishes a secure connection between your phone or tablet and your laptop, you won’t need to concern yourself with worries about being snooped on. However, your mobile carrier may still be able to know what sites you’ve browsed, while some networks also charge a fee or a limited supply of personal hotspot data per month.
What’s the safest solution to safely use WiFi in a public network?
It goes without saying that one of the best ways to comfortably browse the internet on public WiFi is by getting a VPN service. There are plenty of VPN providers out there that claim to be the best. But in our opinion, ExpressVPN is the best option to securely browse through any network by hiding your IP address. Moreover, this is one of the most popular VPN apps out there and with good reason. It offers a comprehensive set of tools to help you browse the internet securely at all times. ExpressVPN offers browser extensions for Chrome as well as Firefox, which makes it even easier to access VPN features.
So what makes ExpressVPN so great? Well, let’s talk about some of its core features. For starters, this VPN service gives you access to servers located around 94 countries. While you can’t select individual servers, the company mentions that it has over 3,000 servers worldwide, giving you the option to browse from that many locations. In addition to keeping you safe from malicious sources, this VPN service also lets you unblock some of the geo-locked content that may not be accessible otherwise.
What’s even better is the fact that ExpressVPN has its servers located in the British Virgin Islands, which is considered a safe haven for privacy apps. It is also worth pointing out that ExpressVPN doesn’t store your data in its logs, thus ruling out the possibility of compromising your private information. When you’re investing in a VPN service, it always makes sense to get the best and take no chances.
The speeds are reliable and extremely fast, while customers also have the option to get both the desktop (Windows/Mac) apps as well as mobile apps for Android and iOS. The service also includes P2P support which lets you download torrents with no tracking. In terms of security, ExpressVPN provides safety from DNS, IP, or WebRTC leaks, thus keeping your personal data safe at all times.
If you have a mobile device or a tablet, we recommend downloading ExpressVPN apps for all your devices. The company supports up to 5 devices under one account, so it can cover almost every device you have.
Taking this into account, ExpressVPN is certainly one of the best options we can think of.