The use of smartphones has increased so much today that we can’t live without them even for a while. The biggest reason for this is the Internet. Internet opens our door to connect with the online world. A smartphone without an internet is just a basic phone that can only be used for calling purpose. But once you’re connected to the Internet, you can do a lot of things from chatting with your friends to video calling, watching movies, playing games, hanging out on social media and more.
Nowadays you can easily find free Wi-Fi facilities at metro stations, airports, offices, malls and other places. Whenever we get public Wi-Fi, we don’t miss the opportunity to use the Internet for free and download our favourite stuff. But did you know that using a public Wi-Fi poses a great security risk? In this article, we are going to give you some serious reasons that will convince you not to use public any Wi-Fi. In case of emergency, we have shared some security measures that can take to protect your device and data from getting hacked while using public Wi-Fi. Let’s get started!
What is a public Wi-Fi?
For those who don’t know, public Wi-Fi is a wireless network that provides you free Internet service. You are not required to enter any password to use the public Wi-Fi as it is openly available without any security. Various public places like restaurants, airports, coffee shops, malls, and hotels offer free Wi-Fi services. To connect your device to public Wi-Fi, you just need to enable the Wi-Fi feature and it will automatically connect.
Reasons why public Wi-Fi isn’t safe
From the title of this article, a question will be arising in your mind that why public Wi-Fi isn’t considered safe. Well, there is not just one but several reasons to support this statement. When you are connected to a public Wi-Fi, there is a high risk that your device can be hacked and even the information that are sending or receiving can be tapped.
Hackers keep an eye on the devices connected to the public Wi-Fi as they are very easy target for them. If you get on their radar, they can track all your activities including what are searching and downloading on your smartphone. There is also a risk of your personal data being stolen. This will be done in the background without even letting you know. Let’s discuss about the risks of using public Wi-Fi in detail –
1. Data theft
As you may already know, the data is transferred in the from of small packets while sending and receiving the information over the Internet. A hacker sitting in the same network can intercept these data packets and check your online activities in real-time. The technical term given to this hacking technique is called network sniffing.
According to the reports that have come out so far, it is easiest to hack those routers which have WEP security. You will find WEP in old routers but now new Wi-Fi technologies have been build like WPA, WPA2, and WPA3 which are more secure and bit difficult to hack. If you find a public Wi-Fi with WEP security, you should avoid connecting to it as it is a major security risk.
2. Device hacking
There is also a risk of your device getting hacked when you are connected to the public Wi-Fi. Even your personal information including email address, passwords, and credit or debit card details can be stolen by the hacker. There are various types of hacking techniques that hackers use to target people on the public Wi-Fi network such as network sniffing, phishing, DNS poisoning, spoofing attacks, etc.
3. Secret spying
All your activities can be tracked by the hacker when you are connected to the public Wi-Fi. This include your search history, live location, VoIP calls, text messages, emails and more. Regardless of how secure your device is, it is possible for a hacker to install spyware on your device and track your activity. Spyware has the ability to remain hidden so you won’t be able to find out that someone is keeping an eye on you.
4. Viruses and malware
A public Wi-Fi network has so many devices connected to it. If a device is infected with some virus or malware, it can also affect other devices connected to the same network. Wi-Fi network is a great opportunity for viruses and malware to spread from one device to another. These malicious software can cause various level of damage. To protect yourself from them, you should always have a good anti-virus software installed on your device.
5. Location tracking
Your location can be easily tracked when you are using a public Wi-Fi. A hacker can have all the information of your device including where it is located. If you don’t want to be tracked, you have got another reason to avoid using public Wi-Fi.
How to protect yourself while using public Wi-Fi
There are some emergency situations when we need to use public Wi-Fi. Let’s suppose you don’t have mobile data on your phone and you want to access the Internet for some important work. In such a situation, you can use public Wi-Fi but always keep these important tips in your mind which will help you to protect your device from getting hacked.
- Use a VPN on your smartphone or laptop. VPN, which stands for Virtual Private Network, will build a safe and secure connection over public Wi-Fi by encrypting your internet traffic so no one can intercept it.
- Don’t share your personal information such as email address, passwords, credit or debit card details and more. If you are asked to provide your details for using the Wi-Fi service, avoid doing that.
- Don’t use public Wi-Fi for banking transactions. If your daily mobile data has been exhausted and you need to make a payment, you can use the UPI 123Pay service to send money without an internet connection.
- Make sure that you have anti-virus software installed on your device. It will help protect your device from viruses and malware that can enter from other devices connected to the same Wi-Fi network.
- Turn off Wi-Fi auto connect feature – Don’t let your device automatically connect with public Wi-Fi even by mistake. Before using to any network, find out who is providing the Wi-Fi service and make sure it is authentic.
- Update system – Keep the operating system (OS) of your smartphone or laptop updated with the latest version.
Why you should use a VPN on public Wi-Fi
By now you must be aware of the dangers of using public WiFi, but does this mean that you should never use them? Wherever there is a security vulnerability, there is a way to fix it. Luckily, public Wi-Fi can be made secure by using a VPN. Many of you may already know about VPN and you may also have used it for accessing blocked websites in your country.
A VPN (or Virtual Private Network) helps your data travel through the internet safely without your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or cyber criminals being able to spy on your online activities. By using a VPN on your device, you can also hide your real location and access the Internet anonymously from a different location (even outside your country).
Another big advantage of VPN is that it encrypts your internet traffic by creating an end-to-end encryption between your device and the server. This is what makes VPN a must-have need for using public Wi-Fi. It will hide your identity and help you avoid getting caught by hackers. There are several VPN apps available for all operating systems and devices. You can find them on the official app store of your OS. Download the one that has the best reviews and ratings.
How to disable Wi-Fi auto connect
Wi-Fi auto connect is a feature that allows your device to automatically discover and connect with public Wi-Fi nearby you. You should keep this feature turned off in order to prevent your smartphone from connecting with any unknown Wi-Fi without your permission.
To disable Wi-Fi auto connect on iOS/iPhone, simply go to Settings and select Wi-Fi option. Here you will find an option named Auto-Join Hotspot. Click on it and then choose Never option. There is another feature in the Wi-Fi settings called Ask to Join Networks. If you don’t want to get notified when you are within range of a network, you can turn off this feature by selection Off option.
In the same way, you can also disable Android smartphones from connecting with public Wi-Fi. Just go to Settings > Network & Internet > Wi-Fi. Choose Wi-Fi preferences option and then switch off the Connect to public networks toggle button. We recommend you to keep the Wi-Fi turned off when it’s not in use.
Frequently asked questions
Anything that you get for free comes at a cost. In case of public Wi-Fi, you are risking your online safety. You should mostly avoid using public Wi-Fi until and unless you really need it for some work. And even if you use it, always make sure to follow the security measures to protect yourself from getting hacking.
Yes, using a VPN with public Wi-Fi can prove to beneficial. VPN will encrypt your connection and tunnel all data through an alternate server thus creating a secure route for you to use the Internet anonymously. It makes your device less vulnerable when you are connected to public WiFi.
Yes, it’s absolutely safe to use a VPN on your smartphone or laptop. But it is important to find a good VPN service that is fast, reliable, and secure. You can find both free and premium VPN apps. The premium ones offer more features and availability of servers at different locations.
Dangers of public Wi-Fi – Final words
This fact can’t be denied that there is a possibility of your device being hacked by using public Wi-Fi. You can surely save your mobile data by using free Wi-Fi service but you are always risking your online safety by doing this. We hope you are now aware of all the security risks involved in using public Wi-Fi. If you have any questions related to this topic, let us know in the comments below and we would love to answer them. Don’t forget to spread this useful information with your friends. You can also check out more interesting articles on our website.