If you’re like most people, public Wi-Fi is one of the deciding factors in where you eat or where you shop. In 2021, public Wi-Fi is ubiquitous and can be found in almost every café and library. Whether you’re a student who relies on public Wi-Fi to get his work done or a regular café-frequenter, you can’t deny how useful free Wi-Fi is. It provides people with a way to stay connected to their loved ones and the world at large, regardless of where they are outside.
Despite public Wi-Fi being so commonplace in our lives, we seldom stop to consider if it has any dangers that pose a threat to us. Regardless of what you’re doing online, whether you’re communicating sensitive financial information or just commenting on Instagram, there are plenty of dangers on public Wi-Fi that you need to be aware of.
In this article, we’ll be going over the various dangers of public WIFI, from potential man-in-the-middle attacks, location tracking, and how you can protect yourself as you browse on these networks.
Why a proxy provider is vital to safe browsing.
A proxy provider can protect you from all the common ailments of public WIFI – man-in-the-middle attacks, location tracking and more. You can learn more about each of these as we explain them in detail further in this article.
An excellent proxy provider, like this one, protects you against all of these issues. It allows you to change your IP address with every new connection request your device makes, so your actual IP address remains a mystery to pesky servers who try to track you. Proxy servers also allow you to bypass country restrictions, so you can connect to the public WIFI in New York and pose as if you’re browsing from Spain. It’s a bulletproof way to protect your browsing activities online while continuing to enjoy the conveniences free public WIFI provides you.
A man-in-the-middle attack is when an attacker intercepts communication between two parties to either modify or spy on the traffic traveling between them.
Typically, attackers use this type of attack to steal your login credentials or corrupt your data. Say, for example, you were browsing the web on a public network. An attacker would create a duplicate website to what you previously viewed and reroute your internet traffic towards the fake website. This way, if you enter any sensitive information, the attacker would be receiving your data, not the legitimate website.
There are various types of man-in-the-middle attacks, ranging from IP spoofing, where attackers obtain your IP address, to stealing browser cookies, where cybercriminals hijack your cookies to gain access to your address, passwords, and other important information.
Free WIFI doesn’t cost you money; you just pay with your privacy.
It all begins when you connect to an establishment’s Wi-Fi network. Often, you’ll be redirected to a separate web page to provide your email address or your phone number to “login”.
From this point on, your email address and phone number will be linked to your device’s Media Access Control (MAC) address. This is a unique ID that’s visible to hotspot providers when you connect to their network. Since hotspot providers have exclusive deals with thousands of eateries and public places, you can be tracked in a wide variety of areas.
This way, if someone visits a store on Monday and frequents another store on Thursday, advertisers will be able to recognize it’s the same person due to the same MAC address being used in both locations.
Over time, this can become a detailed map of someone’s daily habits. Advertisers will be able to know exactly where you shop, where you work and what places you visit at what times of the day.
This data is meant to be used by retailers and marketers alike, so they can better understand peak versus off-hours, calculate waiting times for their customers and arrange their staff according to how busy the stores will be.
The use of this information by advertisers is already an invasion of your privacy… but imagine the dangers it could pose if an unsavory character had access to a detailed itinerary of where you would be at specific times throughout the day.
If you thought this was only used by the occasional retailer, think again.
London’s Tube network announced in mid-2019 that they would roll out Wi-Fi tracking by default. Transport for London (TfL) explained the rationale: to enhance in-station marketing analytics and understand how commuters move across the network and through stations. This would help TfL to provide improved alerts about delays and congestion.
Commuters can choose to opt out by disabling their WIFI or putting their phone into airplane mode as they use the network.
Though they claim each MAC address they collect will be depersonalized and encrypted to prevent commuters from being identified, attempts in recent years to reverse engineer this type of encryption have proven successful.
What you can do to protect your privacy.
Don’t get us wrong; public WIFI is fantastic. It’s convenient, widely accessible, free to use, and helps many people throughout their daily lives. That being said, it does come with its risks, so using it wisely with its potential dangers in mind is the key to staying safe online.
Here are a few things you can do to protect your privacy on public Wi-Fi:
- Use a proxy provider. As we discussed earlier, using a proxy will eliminate most of these exploits, allowing you to have your cake and eat it.
- Use a VPN. Virtual Private Networks encrypt your data travelling to and from your device, keeping you safe from
- Disable your WIFI when you’re not using it. Not only will it prevent these hotspots from tracking you, but it’ll also save you battery life.
- Don’t sign in with social media. These sites typically allow you to skip the email address part of the login if you sign up with your social media accounts instead. However, your social media profile is a treasure trove of information about you, whether it’s your work details of your LinkedIn or your Instagram followers.
- If you use public WIFI, surf with discretion. Don’t access your bank account or any other sensitive information on public WIFI. Stick to your regular web browsing