Internet has added great convenience to our lives. We rely on it for banking, staying in touch with family and friends, filing taxes, entertainment, streaming movies, sports, funny cat videos, etc. These days, hotels, coffee shops, airports and many other public places offer free access to Internet via Wi-fi. Many people don’t realize security risks associated with these networks.
Is Public WiFi Secure?
Shiny new smartphones, tablets and computers that you bought over the holidays have apps running in the background, continuously refreshing and updating. When these devices connect to hotspot, sensitive and personally identifiable information (PII) flows through the public network.
An evil hacker connected to the same network as you, runs Wireshark, Kali or other penetration testing tools to intercept, sniff and capture your traffic. Private information intended only for your family, friends, contacts, pictures, credit cards, tax documents, logins and passwords are now available to be exploited at leisure and sold on Dark Web for pennies.
Botnets, Malwares, Virus and Spywares
Public Internet access also heightens the risk of botnets, malwares, spywares, and virus infection. Cybercriminals could trick user to install or exploit unpatched security holes in the software to install and spread rogue apps. The infected device now becomes the host, infects other devices on the network, eventually spreading to all your devices at home and office compromising sensitive data.
Cyber Attacks and Ransomware on the rise
Ransomware, a type of malware uses sophisticated crypto algorithm to encrypt and lock valuable digital files and demands ransom to release them. CryptoLocker has crippled hospitals, schools, governments, law enforcement agencies, businesses and of course home computers causing catastrophic damage and financial loss.
Criminals prefer Bitcoin, a peer-to-peer digital currency because it’s easy to use, fast, publicly available, decentralized and provides a sense of heightened security and anonymity. Governments, banks and other financial intermediaries have no way to reverse bitcoin transactions or freeze accounts.
Tips to remain safe online
Keep operating system, software, and firmware of devices updated.
Regularly scan your device with antivirus.
Do not install unknown apps, browser extensions, plugins, etc.
Enable firewall on your computer.
Regularly backup data.
Always use VPN. Ensure you are not using exploitable protocols. For best security, use Elliptic Curve Cryptography with IKEv2 or OpenVPN. Not all VPN protocols are secure.