Public WiFi networks are the siren song of our day. The promise of fast, free WiFi is tempting, but the risks associated with connecting are rarely worthwhile. Open or Public WiFi is not to be trusted when accessing critical data or personal information. If the WiFi network is not properly encrypted, your data is free for the taking.
A serious risk when using public WiFi is known as a Man-in-the-Middle attack. Equitable to eavesdropping, cybercriminals sit in-between the access point and the end user, spying on or copying data that is passed back and forth. So, if you sign in to your email, make a purchase or access any critical business data, the “man in the middle” can see it too.
For a few hundred dollars, anyone can purchase a device that allows them to create a malicious WiFi network. They can then deploy this device at a Starbucks, airport, or other heavily trafficked area. The attacker then names the network something convincing, like Starbucks-WiFi, in the hopes that a desperate executive or office administrator needs WiFi to access something of value to the criminal.
Connecting to a public WiFi network is dangerous regardless of what you are accessing on your device. Just because you are only looking at baseball scores or browsing a news site does not mean that you are not at risk. Any insecure connection to your device is an open door to a cybercriminal.
If you often find yourself in need of WiFi but want to avoid the risks of connecting to an open WiFi network, consider a hotspot. Most cellular providers have mobile devices that can provide a secure internet connection for any of your devices. Additionally, most modern cell phones have the ability to act as a hotspot. As long as you have cell service, your laptop or other mobile devices can securely connect to the necessary resources.