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The dangers of working with free Wi-Fi

With the UK slowly opening back up again there’s a natural desire to get out of the house as much as possible. Whether that be going out for dinner, starting a new hobby, or even just working in a different environment. Pre-pandemic it was not uncommon to see cafes and other public areas filled to the brim with people busy typing away on their laptops and post pandemic this is likely to continue. It’s easy to see why this way of working may appeal to people, after being stuck at home for over a year, working in a cafe or a pub may seem like a luxury too good to pass up. However, many people using these public spaces will also be using public, free Wi-Fi which can lead to a whole world of dangers and leave you exposed. So what are these dangers and what can you do? 

What’s the harm with free Wi-Fi?

Threats online can come in many different forms but one of the most serious risks is theft of personal information. If a hacker manages to access your data through a compromised Wi-Fi network, they could have free reign over your login credentials, financial information, pictures, and other personal data. Once obtained, hackers can use this information for a variety of reasons, none of which are positive.

Sometimes the threat from hackers may be business orientated. By using a company device on public Wi-Fi, you are potentially exposing the company to attacks and theft of sensitive information. However, most companies do now use features to prevent this from happening, it could still lead to your or your colleague’s data being tracked and sold to advertisers.

Man in the middle attacks are also a very prominent threat, this is when a hacker sets up a network to lure users in by making it look like a free, open network. They will often do this in places where people are expecting some form of free network. Once connected to their network, the hackers can begin to harvest data and financial information. The names of these network will often resemble that of the cafe, hotel, or pub that is nearby, but it is always important to check the name carefully for any spelling mistakes and if unsure, always check with a member of staff to confirm it is their network.

A further risk is malware. Malware itself can be split up into many sub-categories such as adware, viruses, ransomware, and more. Someone on the same open network could easily plant malware on your device without your knowledge. This malware would continue to act even after you had disconnected from the network.

What can I do about it?

All these threats may seem scary, and rightly so, it’s important to stay aware of what’s out there and there are steps you can take to stay secure. Firstly, know what you are connecting to. Ensure you are connecting to a legitimate network provided by the business and read the terms and conditions, especially surrounding the use and collection of your data.

Another step you can take is simply don’t give away too much information. This may be through signing up or whilst you’re using the network, avoid giving away personal information or using bank details and these may be easily collected and used by hackers.

Finally, one of the most useful ways to prevent risk is by using a virtual private network (VPN). This will connect you to a secure server and encrypt the data going to and from your device. This is a great way to prevent online threats and won’t cost you a fortune to use.

Ultimately, there are many risks facing us when using open networks, but there are also ways to minimise these risks. With the normality beckoning, it’s important to stay vigilant but to allow ourselves to enjoy some of the freedoms we have longed for over the past year.