Does Public Wi-Fi Put You at Risk?

Posted by on Apr 5, 2017

Ever been waiting for a flight connection in an airport and killed time by viewing Facebook or checking email on your laptop or smart phone? Then you may have put yourself at high risk for being hacked.

Hungate Business Services wants to let clients know that open or public Wi-Fi often isn’t well encrypted and is sometimes even fake – set up by local hackers to entrap users and steal their data. Such fake hotspots – sometimes called “honeypots” – are more common than ever and often carry familiar-sounding names that sound legitimate and disguise who they are.

When open Wi-Fi is available, encryption is generally provided at one of the following three levels:

  • WPA2: The best you can have
  • WPA: Less secure than WPA2
  • WEP: The least secure encryption you can have

Unless you know which type your open Wi-Fi has, you could be putting yourself at risk of losing important information – such as passwords, banking details, your birth date and so on. We suggest you take the following steps before using public Wi-Fi.

Steps to Staying Safe on Public Wi-Fi

Step One: Make sure your computer or smart phone isn’t programmed to automatically connect to any public Wi-Fi in range – or set it to ask you before connecting. If you don’t know what public network is being applied, ask someone in charge (an employee or manager) to make sure you’re not being subjected to a Wi-Fi honeypot (explained above).

Step Two: Use a VPN on your device and connect through it after you access the public Wi-Fi. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and it’s a group of computers (or discrete networks) networked together over a public network. Some VPNs are free, and many more charge a fee. All provide encryption, and some are nearly impossible to penetrate. Windows, for example, provides users with a pre-installed VPN client. After choosing a VPN, the process is as follows: You will launch the VPN service on your computer (or click a link on a special website) and log in with credentials, after which your computer will exchange trusted keys with another server. After both computers verify each other as authentic, all internet communication is encrypted and secured.

Step Three: Often laptops contain versions of anti-virus or firewall software, which help prevent intrusions. Even if you use a VPN, make sure this important software is always turned on when connecting to a public network.

Step Four: Even if you’re using the above-mentioned safeguards, it’s still important to remain cautious when using public Wi-Fi. For example, don’t do banking using public Wi-Fi unless absolutely necessary, and don’t buy anything or use your credit card. These kinds of transactions should be postponed until you’re at home or in the office so you’re absolutely certain which Wi-Fi is in control.

Step Five: This is basic, but a factor that makes a big difference: Make sure all your devices are using the most up-to-date operating systems. Because these are continually being improved to ward off bugs and viruses, they play an important role in maintaining online safety.

If you want an evaluation related to how safe your devices are when using public Wi-Fi, call Hungate Business Services (HBS) at 276-243-4026 or email our help desk at [email protected]. We will work with you to establish best practices in this area of network computing.