Everyone has heard the horror stories, whether through a friend or relative or reading an article online. It usually goes something like this: some poor unsuspecting person jumps onto a free public Wifi connection to quickly check their banking details (or email, etc.) while out and about and later realizes a hacker has managed to steal their passwords or access their bank account.
No one ever really thinks it will happen to them…until it does. According to a study undertaken by the Identity Theft Resource Center, 79% of respondents believe that using free public Wifi could lead to identity theft, yet only 27% use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Using a VPN can save you a lot of pain in the future by keeping you safe on public Wifi.
Let’s take a look at the potential risks of using free public Wifi then how you can protect yourself, your bank account, your identity, and all the other interesting information about you that cybercriminals would love to get their hands on.
What are the Dangers of Using Public Wifi?
Public Wifi is great in so many ways. It saves you from using your own data and can get you out of a tight bind if you have a bad cell signal and are lost or trying to meet up with a friend. As with most things in life, where there are ups there are downs.
Using free public Wifi is one of the easiest ways for hackers to access your details. Consider it like handing over the keys to your online world on a platter. Here are just some of the ways that cybercriminals can take advantage of public Wifi and unsecured connections.
Man-in-the-Middle Attacks (MITM)
A MITM is a cunning method whereby a cybercriminal can intercept the communication between you and another party. You are particularly vulnerable when using public Wifi because the information being shared is generally not encrypted.
Not only can a hacker use this method to eavesdrop on your communication but they can also send fake messages on both parties’ behalf. They make it very convincing so that neither party realizes another person is tampering with their conversation. The hacker can also steal a lot of valuable information such as passwords, usernames, and email details which probably holds a lot of confidential data.
Fake Access Point (AP)
A fake Access Point (or “Evil Twin”) is where a cybercriminal can set up a new AP masquerading as a genuine hotspot. In this instance, you might think you’re joining a public Wifi network but it’s fraudulent. The purpose of this method is to get data and passwords by monitoring your connection or phishing.
Sidejacking is when a malicious third party can read network traffic, possibly gaining access to your private information or being able to impersonate you online. This is particularly easy to achieve when a user is on a public Wifi network.
How Using a VPN Can Protect You
As you are no doubt aware by now, using a public Wifi network can get you in a whole lot of trouble. Cybercriminals are tech-savvy and can easily impersonate genuine hotspots and intercept communication between devices, making stealing data an easy task.
Using a VPN means that you will have a secure connection even if you do use public Wifi and you can download the software in minutes so there’s no excuse. This will give you the freedom to shop online, do online banking, and go about your online business with the peace of mind that your data is encrypted and can’t be intercepted.
A VPN essentially functions by hiding your information and preventing attacks:
- Browsing History – stops your internet service provider and the web browser you use from tracking what you do online. This helps stop targeted ads from following you around and your internet service provider from selling and sharing your browsing history.
- IP Address – a VPN will use an IP address that isn’t really yours so no one can find out your actual location via your IP address.
- Kill Switch – if your secure VPN connection is interrupted, this feature will automatically disconnect your device as it will no longer be secure.
As we mentioned, setting up a VPN on your device is simple and takes a matter of minutes. Best of all, some VPNs can even make your internet connection faster or at least cause no delay.
What to Look for in a VPN
There are plenty of great (and not so good) options on the market for VPNs. Here are some of our top tips on what you should look for when choosing the right VPN for you:
- Speed – while we did say some can improve your connection speed, watch out for those that have a lag and can decrease download times, etc.
- Excellent Encryption – the technology a VPN uses is one of the most important factors. After all, the main purpose is to keep you secure online. Always go for a reputable brand.
- User Friendly – unless you work in the tech world you probably don’t want to be spending hours setting it up. Look for one that is easy to use so you can get the most out of it.
- Coverage – you want a VPN that services a wide range of locations and has plenty of servers.
- Simultaneous Connections – this will mean that you’re able to connect multiple devices at once and for different people in your household.
- Refund Policy – you’d be surprised at how many good VPNs offer a refund policy. This will allow you to trial it and make sure that you’re happy with the service and can set it up properly before committing.
Here are our favorite VPN providers and the benefits of each.
Hopefully, you can’t wait to use a VPN now and are going to choose one right away. Remember, it only takes a couple of minutes to download at the most but will save you time and a headache in the future. Of course, you will be choosing and installing your VPN using a secure private connection and not free public Wifi after reading this article!