We recently did a deep dive into Wi-Fi, what it is, how it works, and even some of its practical applications. However, this technology, ubiquitous as it may be, is not without its flaws. There are a few major weaknesses that bad actors like to exploit to extract money and information from you.
With that in mind, let’s look at a list of some of the most common or dangerous ways that you expose yourself to danger by directly connecting to a public W-Fi network with no encryption.
Piggybacking is the practice of connecting to an unsecured network and using their connection with the owner’s knowledge. Most routers today require you to set a password by default, but it isn’t ubiquitous. When random people connect to your network, they’re able to monitor and track all outgoing traffic, as long as it's unencrypted.
The best way to stop this from happening is to create a strong password for any Wi-Fi networks you own. Additionally, encrypting the traffic itself by using a VPN would prevent any unwanted users from peeping on what you’re doing.
As previously alluded to, the traffic on these wireless networks are not actually at all encrypted. Because of this, people can create programs that can pick up on the same packets being sent to a Wi-Fi router, and then simply read them.
If this happens, somebody with a sniffer could see every message you send, everything you look up on the internet, every phone call, and even things other people send you. It may take a little bit of effort to interpret the raw data, but it’s not even close to impossible.
The best way to prevent yourself from being sniffed is to use a VPN whenever you connect to public Wi-Fi. That way, even if the packets are being grabbed and read, they won’t be able to be read, since the signal is encrypted. If you’re curious about what VPNs are, we have an article explaining it.
In some cases, somebody may set up their own publicly available Wi-Fi signal masquerading as one of a legitimate enterprise in order to bait people to connect with it. This has identical results to sniffing, but is technically easier to detect.
Before willingly giving all of your Internet traffic to an unknown source, you should at least make sure it’s coming from a legitimate source. As long as you’re careful, you should be able to avoid this, but a VPN wouldn’t hurt either.
The big recurring theme to keep yourself safe is to get yourself a VPN. We already mentioned our article about what VPNs are, but if you’re curious about which ones are best, we also have a guide for that.
All in all, you should be careful when you connect to public networks run by total strangers. It is the case that all your information can be read as long as it isn’t encrypted.