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Is public Wi-Fi a benefit or a curse?

In today's world, public Wi-Fi has become ubiquitous. It's available in airports, hotels, coffee shops, and other public spaces, and it's incredibly convenient for people who need to access the internet on the go. However, it's important to remember that public Wi-Fi can be a double-edged sword, as it comes with its fair share of security risks.

Connecting with everyone

Public Wi-Fi is a potential goldmine for cybercriminals, who can use it as a gateway to launch attacks on unsuspecting users. When you connect to public Wi-Fi, you're essentially connecting to a network that's accessible to everyone in the area. This means that anyone with a laptop or a smartphone can connect to the same network and potentially intercept your data. Hackers can use a variety of methods to do this, including man-in-the-middle attacks, packet sniffing, and social engineering.

Man-in-the-middle attacks

Man-in-the-middle attacks occur when a hacker intercepts the communication between your device and the public Wi-Fi network. They can then eavesdrop on your online activity and potentially steal sensitive information like passwords and credit card details. Packet sniffing, on the other hand, involves intercepting and analysing the data packets that are sent between your device and the network. This can give hackers access to a wealth of information about your online activity, including the websites you visit and the files you download. And yes, these attacks could well be carried out by a Woman-in-the-middle, too!

How do they get your information?

Social engineering is a method used by hackers to trick users into revealing sensitive information. For example, a hacker may set up a fake public Wi-Fi network with a name that's similar to the legitimate network in the area. When users connect to this fake network, the hacker can steal their login credentials or other sensitive information.

How can I use public Wi-Fi safely?

So, should you avoid public Wi-Fi altogether? Not necessarily. While it's true that public Wi-Fi comes with risks, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. Here are a few tips:

Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A VPN is a service that encrypts your internet connection and hides your IP address. When you connect to a VPN, all your internet traffic is routed through a secure server, making it much harder for hackers to intercept your data. There are many VPN providers available, and most offer both free and paid options.

Avoid logging into sensitive accounts

When you're on public Wi-Fi, it's best to avoid logging into any sensitive accounts, such as your online banking or email. If you must access these accounts, consider using a two-factor authentication method to add an extra layer of security.

Keep your software up-to-date

Make sure that all of your software, including your web browser and operating system, is up-to-date. Software updates often include security patches that can help protect you from known vulnerabilities. Don’t let your accounts be compromised because you postponed an update.

Use a firewall

A firewall is a security device that protects your network from unauthorised access to private data. Firewalls also secure computers from malicious software, creating a barrier between secured internal networks and untrusted outside networks. Many operating systems come with a built-in firewall, but there are also third-party firewall programs available. This will protect your system from any malicious actors, and dodgy downloads!

Be wary of public Wi-Fi networks

If you’re working in a coffee shop, or on the train, it’s important to be cautious when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks. If they’re not password-protected, then they’re best to be avoided. Stick to networks that are provided by reputable companies, and avoid using any networks with suspicious or unfamiliar names.

In conclusion, public Wi-Fi can be a benefit or a curse depending on how you use it. While it's incredibly convenient for people who need to access the internet on the go, it also comes with significant security risks. By taking the necessary precautions, however, you can protect yourself and use public Wi-Fi safely.

If you want to minimise the effect of cyber-attacks on your organisation, we can signpost you to one of our trusted partners, who can help you through the process of gaining the Cyber Essentials Plus qualification.

If you’d like to find out more about protecting your organisation against the rising threats of cybercrime, or Cyber Essentials, contact us today.


The contents of this website are provided for general information only and are not intended to replace specific professional advice relevant to your situation. The intention of The Cyber Resilience Centre for the West Midlands is to encourage cyber resilience by raising issues and disseminating information on the experiences and initiatives of others.  Articles on the website cannot by their nature be comprehensive and may not reflect most recent legislation, practice, or application to your circumstances. The Cyber Resilience Centre for the West Midlands provides affordable services and Trusted Partners if you need specific support. For specific questions please contact us.


The Cyber Resilience Centre for the West Midlands does not accept any responsibility for any loss which may arise from reliance on information or materials published on this document. The Cyber Resilience Centre for the West Midlands is not responsible for the content of external internet sites that link to this site or which are linked from it.

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