Public Wi-Fi is readily available and convenient to use—but public Wi-Fi hotspots can also present a risk. Attackers can set up rogue access points that trick users into connecting, allowing them to perform man in the middle (MITM) attacks. This type of attack allows malicious actors to intercept and manipulate network traffic or install malware on systems connected to the rogue access point. Below are some steps you can take to protect yourself while using a public Wi-Fi hotspot.
Stay Up to Date
One of the best ways to protect yourself and your digital devices is to ensure that software updates are applied on a regular basis. Updates can include functionality improvements, but more importantly, they can include security patches to address vulnerabilities. It’s easy to skip updates because the notifications always seem to pop up at inconvenient times. If there is an auto update feature, it’s a good idea to set it or make it a habit to regularly check for updates.
By keeping your software up to date, you can limit the attack surface that is available to the bad guys.
Know What You’re Connecting To
When connecting to Wi-Fi, it’s a good idea to always check the name of the network. Attackers can create similar looking network names where the name of the malicious network is slightly misspelled but close enough to the real network that most people will blindly connect. Once a connection to the malicious network is established, the attacker can see all the traffic that passes through their network. When possible, it’s a good idea to connect to a Wi-Fi network that requires some type of authentication to attach to it. This is usually symbolized by a padlock icon similar to this:
The “S” Is for Secure
Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is an application protocol that transfers information through a secure tunnel. This is usually identified via a padlock icon in the browser bar. When browsing the Internet, it’s preferable to connect to websites that support the HTTPS protocol. Data transferred over HTTPS is not easily readable by malicious actors. If an attacker captures traffic that uses HTTPS, they will most likely not be able to actually read the data that was transferred.
Most browsers will warn users if they are about to visit an HTTP site. Never enter sensitive information over an unsecure channel like HTTP.
When connecting to a Wi-Fi network, ensure that your device is configured not to share its resources, such as folder or printer services. This could allow an attacker to copy an infected file to your system and execute it.
Always assume public Wi-Fi hotspots are insecure, and never transmit sensitive information while connected to the network. If joining the network requires you to answer a few questions or fill out a questionnaire, never share passwords or other personal information.
Put Up Walls
Both Windows and Mac operating systems have built-in firewalls. Host-based firewalls can control network traffic that is entering and leaving a system. By enabling your system’s host-based firewall, you can reduce the potential of an attacker compromising your system. When connected to a public Wi-Fi hotspot, a host-based firewall can protect your system from others on the same network.
Now that you’ve read our tips, we hope you can confidently take advantage of convenient Wi-Fi hotspots wherever your workday takes you.