Free Public WiFi, what more could we want?

Depending on your location, free public WIFi can be an absolute god send.  Those who work in law often spend a lot of time on the road/in the air/stuck at airports.  On a personal level, mobile data is cheaper now than it ever has been, and far more accessible, but if you're away from home in a foreign land the last thing most of us want to do is tether to our mobile devices and incur ridiculous roaming charges.  Some of us may use Free Public WiFi closer to home, maybe a laptop in a well known coffee shop is your office space for the morning?  Beware - free public WiFi has many unknowns and you need to be aware of the potential risks you are taking by using this type of service.  Few people understand these risks, but this blog post might go some way to helping you out.

In it's most basic form, free WiFi is giving you a free connection to a router, which in turn is connected to the internet.  When you do this at home you are on your own network, with (hopefully!) your own unique password.  The problem in public is that you do not know who else is connected to that router you are essentially sharing the network with.  You wouldn't let a criminal in your house, but potentially you might be sharing a connection with one every time you use free public WiFi.

The most common danger/worry in this scenario for cyber security is named man-in-the-middle (MitM) attack, where a hacker will position themselves virtually between you and the router, therefore having visibility of all of your traffic/key presses/credentials before passing them on to their intended location.  You might not be wise to this or ever find out it happened.  With your details however the hacker could then impersonate you with whatever information they have seen, and generally make your life a misery.

There is also the opportunity for a hacker to "place" malware or the like onto your computer, especially if you have network file sharing turned on for your device.  Consult your device providers instructions to turn this off while out of your home, or turn it off at all if it's not needed. 

There are many things you can do to protect yourself, not only in a free public WiFi area but wherever you are.  I have listed some of these below, I would encourage you to research these defences beyond this blog post, it could save your identity:

  • Use a VPN connection.  Personal VPN's can be purchased from reputable companies.  It is worth checking local laws to ensure that you are not breaking any.
  • Turn WiFi off when you don't need it - not only will no one be able to hack you if you're not connected, you'll save some battery life in the process.
  • Use and keep up to date your antivirus software - this is a basic one which we should all be aware of whichever device you have.

Stay safe everyone.