You’re sitting in a McDonald’s by yourself.  Bored, you pull out your phone and connect to the food chain’s public wi-fi network.  Rumor has it that these networks can be dangerous, but that slips your mind as you find yourself quickly engaged by notifications and news stories.  Unbeknownst to you, your information is now at risk.  You need to stop using public wi-fi.  

Before delving into a few ins and outs of network security, it’s important to note that free public wi-fi is an unencrypted, open portal.  This means you should assume there aren’t any security measures taken to provide you with a private or safe connection.  In such an unrestricted environment, online hackers are just waiting for you to press “connect” on your device.  In fact, that simple click can render your personal information visible to complete strangers.  With such serious risks, you need to prioritize security.  Here’s what to watch out for.

Phony Wi-Fi Networks

Hackers often replicate legitimate public wi-fi networks with their own set-ups.  They target people by using network names that resemble a familiar business or are labeled “Guest” to give you a false sense of security upon connecting.  Once you’re connected the hacker can see what you’re doing.  Any sites you visit, apps you open, and passwords you type are all visible to the hacker.  The bad actor can gain information about your email, banking, and other business information.

Worms

Worms are a type of reproducing malware that spread from an infected device to an uninfected one via network connection.  With so many people attaching to public, unencrypted wi-fi, worms are the perfect tool for a cybercriminal to get into your machine.  Once there, the malware can attempt to disable your device to compromise data regarding your financials, credentials, and passwords.

Even if your personal device is secured, it’s difficult to avoid worms over public wi-fi.  Strong endpoint security can defeat most worms, but it’s the ones you don’t know about that may be able to penetrate your defenses.  You don’t want to take an infected computer back to your office and risk infecting your entire network.

Unsecured Phones and Tablets

While most computers are fitted with protective measures, mobile devices are often left out of the equation.  These unsecure devices, if connected to a public wi-fi network, can pose great risk to compromising your information.  You may have heard the rumor that smartphones are more difficult to hack than computers.  However, over public wi-fi they exist as an equal target.

How to Stop Using Public Wi-Fi

At this point, you are likely questioning your alternatives to public wi-fi.  Luckily there are a few options to remain connected and secure.

Use Your Data

Whatever data package you may have, you know that the 4G network your provider offers is more secure than public wi-fi.  Using data may drain your battery, but the encrypted connection is worth it.

Opt for a Private Hotspot

Private hotspots are a means of connecting your device to a trusted phone or tablet.  Offered by phone providers, this option is appropriate only if you trust the person whose device you’re using.  If they have a device connected to a compromised network, then you can be at risk too.

You may also be able to use your own phone as a hotspot.  By using a pass key to turn on the hotspot feature on your iOS or Android device, you’ll be able to connect your laptop or other mobile device to the Internet.  Alternatively, many business-class laptops or tablets have cellular cards in them or are “cellular card ready”.  By getting the card and a data plan, you’ll be ready to connect to the internet without using a phone.

Use a Virtual Private Network

A Virtual Private Network or VPN is similar to a security blanket laid over a public network.  VPNs provide encrypted connections from the remote user to the office network.  The data traveling in the VPN is considered secure.  A VPN over public wi-fi is more secure than not having a VPN because the risk is reduced to making sure that the endpoint has proper protection.  A VPN blanketed over a hotspot is better than public wi-fi; and a VPN blanketed over private (known and secure) wi-fi is best.

Just Wait

If you can’t use any of the above alternatives, then the best option is to not connect at all.  This may seem inconvenient, but it could prevent a world of hassle in the future.

In summation, be smart!  Always use encrypted connections and when there is no other option, don’t connect at all.  Also, make sure that your computers, smartphones, and tablets use security software that is consistently updated.  No one can be 100% secure, but when you stop using public wi-fi you’ll be sure to reduce your chances of a security breach.

If you’d like to know more about how CRU Solutions can help keep your business safer, contact us.