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The Dangers of Using Public Wifi and Unsecured Networks

By: Latoya Irby

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Using public wifi may be more convenient than using or tethering to your 4G wireless service. Or, if you’re in an area or using a device where wireless data is unavailable, accessing public wifi may seem like a good alternative. However, public wifi is not secure and puts your data at risk.

Why Public Wifi is Risky

Anyone can access public wifi and not everyone is innocently checking a few emails or logging into social media. Malicious hackers and identity thieves also use public wifi to prey on unsuspecting consumers.

In some cases, criminals create their own public network and label it with the business’s name to trick consumers into using their network. Identity thieves have also been known to use signal boosters to make their own networks look more attractive, knowing that users are always looking for the best wifi signal as a sign of the “right” one. You think you’re using the local coffee shop’s wifi, but you’re actually using an identity thief’s machine to access the internet.

Because public wifi is typically not secured - or access isn’t controlled - any information you send while you’re connected can be intercepted by criminals. That means usernames and passwords to your email, financial accounts, social media accounts. It also includes any credit card information or photos you send.

When thieves get access to your information, they can use it to commit identity theft and fraud. Or, they can sell it on the dark web to the highest bidder or bidders, who’ll then use it to commit identity crimes.

Over half of consumers have their information stolen each year, according to Verizon’s 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report, but it’s not just consumers who have to be on guard against using public wifi and unsecured networks. There are thieves intentionally targeting business travelers so they can gain access to company networks, spying for competitors, or stealing consumer information to sell on the dark web. Executives, CEOs, managers, and other employees should especially be careful about using public wifi, even at hotels and conferences, since valuable company and customer information is at risk.

Protecting Yourself and Your Company

Businesses should make sure employees are trained on the proper security measures and bar access to company files and emails unless employees are on a virtual private network or VPN. A VPN creates an additional layer of security by encrypting all information sent, even on an unsecured network.

When you’re sending information over the internet, even something as seemingly innocent as a phone number, always check for site security. Look for an “https://” and a padlock at the beginning of the URL. Avoid entering any personal or financial information unless you’re sure you’re on a secure site using a secure connection.

Check with your wireless carrier about the ability to use your smartphone as a hotspot for accessing the internet from your laptop when you’re on the go. If you’re constantly traveling to areas where secure internet access isn’t guaranteed, upgrading your wireless plan to allow unlimited data and tethering is worth the additional security.