Whenever we hear that something is free, we get excited and want to benefit from the offer. It is human nature and quite normal. However, as is to be expected, most free things come with their own fair share of risk, and free internet is no exception. Unsecured public WIFI is actually quite a bit riskier than many people realize. In fact, its use could have some very far-reaching implications for individuals and businesses.
Unsecured WIFI – What Does It Mean?
The term unsecured simply means ‘no protection.’ An unsecured WIFI connection will, therefore, be one lacking any security measures in place for its users. It will be easy to notice one as, to begin with, you won’t be asked to put in a password while connecting. In many cases, you’ll only be asked for an email address and will then be able to connect and browse the internet.
Secure networks should conform to the security standards of WPA or WPA2, which require the use of strong passwords to only allow connection for authorized users. Since an unsecured connection lacks such features, it also means that the data moving across the network will lack any encryption and can be intercepted easily.
According to Perry of privacyspark.com, the risk of using unsecured WIFI is higher than the benefits you may be seeking, and he strongly advises against using them. The places you are likely to find unsecured WIFI connections are public areas like airports, shopping malls, and hotels. In 2015 close to 600 million people around the world were impacted through cybercrime. That number is only increasing. According to a recent Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) survey, three in four respondents have stated they have used free public WIFI networks to access the internet. We are going to look into some of the reasons why using unsecured public WIFI networks is not safe, and why it is best to avoid them.
Interception Of Data
This is perhaps the largest risk involved with the use of unsecured WIFI, and its effect could be catastrophic. Information likely to be intercepted in such cases is your personal credentials such as emails and passwords. Most sites require you to insert this information before logging in, and when using an unprotected connection to do so, you are risking such information falling into the wrong hands.
With the right tools and resources, it is possible to easily intercept data as you enter it or even install unauthorized programs on your computers. With that information, your identity is at risk which is a significant issue that can take months if not years to resolve not even accounting for the cost. With your identity, it is possible to create new accounts or even access your existing accounts, allowing unauthorized access to your bank account and funds.
An unsecured connection will allow easy entry of hackers into your network. In most cases, hackers have malicious motives, and one of their common tools are viruses. By having a public WIFI network accessible, you risk your computers being infected with viruses. In some cases, criminals choose to use viruses without an underlying motive. They are simply interested in causing as much damage as possible.
It is not only your personal credentials that are at stake here. In case this is happening at a company, it means that the information in all the computers is open and can be viewed. Without proper safety precautions, such corporate data can be stolen and used for malicious purposes. This includes product blueprints, employees’ information, sales information and more. It is possible for malicious individuals to install software through a public WIFI network that will stay on your device until you are back in your place of work. Once that software is on a secure connection it can either infect other devices as already discussed or simply act as a siphon for information and send data without your knowledge.
The risks of unsecured WIFI connection affect everyone, from companies to the users in the network. An interesting thing with many WIFI users is that they are ignorant of the risk they face by opting for an unsecured connection. A 2016 survey by Symantec found that many WIFI users assume they are secured on WIFI connections. In fact, 50% say it is their initiative to guarantee their own security while 17% assume that the company providing the connection has got them covered.
The problem with this line of thought is that in many cases, neither the company nor the users on unsecured WIFI take any safety measures. Public WIFI should, therefore, be avoided, and if you have to use them, setting up your own safety measures is a wise decision. One way is the use of VPNs to hide your IP address and data. An updated antivirus and firewall will also enhance your safety as it will notify you of any malicious activity on your device.