The dangers of public WiFi

Hackers love public WiFi – that’s because 75% of them are vulnerable. But there’s an easy way to stay safe – and that’s VPN.

Common WiFi encryption standards are flawed and should not be trusted. You may already know that connecting to public WiFi hotspots in hotels, airports, and coffee shops is inherently unsecure and potentially dangerous. But despite this, just under 60% of us admit to logging in to personal email accounts over a public connection. This brings with it the danger of your personal information being hacked and used maliciously.

    What are the risks of public WiFi? 

    No matter if you are accessing a public WiFi on a laptop, smartphone or tablet, the dangers are universal. We are highlighting four here, but there are many more scams and hacks that can be used to access your personal data.

    • Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attacks occur when a malicious third party intercepts your communication. They can then present you with fake websites, intercept your passwords and access your data files. As data is unencrypted on public WiFi, users are particularly vulnerable to MITM attacks
    • Even if you just logged in to a hotspot for a few minutes, your data could still be captured. Using freely-available packet sniffing software, hackers can intercept and log data traveling over a free WiFi network. These streams of data, or packets, can be downloaded and saved for later analysis. A snooper can take their time and scan for passwords, personal data and banking details.
    • Session Hijacking, sometimes called sidejacking, exploits a vulnerability with cookies, the small data files saved by your browser on your device. Cookies save time by storing, for example, your username and password so you don’t have to enter your credentials every time you visit a website. However, by hijacking your browser session over a public WiFi network, hackers can easily capture this data and log on to a website as you.
    • Malicious hotspots are quick to set up and can look like legitimate WiFi networks. They can easily trick you into logging on and, with your device connected to their network, hackers can steal your personal information in next to no time. To make them difficult to distinguish from the genuine networks, these evil twin hotspots usually have similar sounding names such as “Coffee Shop Hotspot” or “Free Airport WiFi”.

    How VPN adds a layer of security 

    Google “public WiFi security solutions” and almost every article and website recommends installing a VPN. And that makes sense, as encrypting the data travelling to and from your device makes it secure.

    The Avira Phantom VPN runs on Windows laptops, Macs, smartphones, and tablets (both iOS and Android). It uses the 256 Advanced Encryption Standard (AES-256), which is the norm used worldwide to encrypt data. AES-256 offers so many encryption combinations, it would take billions of computers more than 13 billion years to crack them.

    What’s the difference between a Proxy and a VPN? 

    You may have heard of proxies as a means of accessing blocked websites. And although they are similar, proxies are essentially the unsecure version of VPNs: they give you an alternative IP address, so you can mask your location and access geo-blocked content, but don’t offer encryption for your communications. Furthermore, Proxies only work with compatible programs, so are limited in their application - particularly on mobile devices. In short, only a VPN offers security, encryption and anonymity for users.

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