How to stop hackers from stealing your information on public Wi-Fi
You are one of those Internet buffs who laze around in a Starbucks outlet to enjoy the coffee as well as the free Wi-Fi they provide, this article is for you. All of us enjoy “free internet” through Wi-Fi hotspots libraries, coffee shops, at bars, and other public places. After all its free. But unknown to you some jerk would can spy on you, steal your banking information, credit card details and your personal information.
As said above, hackers can access just about any information as you are doing on a public Wi-Fi. However, to fight them, you need to know how they can steal your data so that you can deal in a better way with them.
Public Wi-Fi security: how hackers steal your data
99 percent of public Wi-Fi are either unsecured or have shared passwords therefore they make easy target for hackers. The hackers have to present on the same unsecured network as you in order to look at your information. Hacking public Wi-Fi requires a little expertise so rest assured there is always a hacker lurking somewhere in the coffee restaurant or the airport when you are busy surfing the Internet.
Here are a few methods through which hackers can access your information :
The Man In the Middle
Most hackers strike with a man in the middle (MiTM) attack. Simply put, they watch or tweak your data in transit. In a MITM attack, the hacker sees the information going to and from your computer. They intercept, and alter, the communication between you and the website.
You can watch this video to understand the MiTM attack better :
Evil Twin attack
The “evil twin” is a variation of MITM attacks. With this attack, hackers set up rogue Wi-Fi hotspots. You might connect to a harmless looking hotspot, like one entitled, “Free Public Wi-Fi”. You figure that maybe someone was being generous.
Little do you know, you might have fallen right into a hacker’s trap. Once you’re connected, hackers can see any data you send and collect through this internet connection.
Devious hackers can set up a legitimate-looking Wi-Fi connection. For example, hackers can broadcast a network name that’s the name of a coffee shop or library. Unsuspecting victims will connect to the evil twin. Unfortunately, their computer still looks connected to the legitimate hub instead.
Some hacker techniques are advanced enough to lure your computer into automatically connecting to their Wi-Fi connection. They do this by broadcasting fake certificates and credentials that match routers you’ve connected to in the past.
The Packet Sniffer
MITM and evil twins aren’t the only strategies for hackers. They use software called packet sniffers like Wireshark to collect your data. A packet sniffer captures all packets of data that pass through a network interface.
Network or system administrators can use packet sniffing to monitor and troubleshoot network traffic. Unfortunately, when hackers use packet sniffing, they eavesdrop on network traffic. They listen in on the information you send through the public Wi-Fi connection and use it for their own interests.
It’s actually pretty easy for hackers to pull off these attacks.
Now we come to the main subject of this article, that is how to prevent hackers from using all the above methods to target your PC/laptop or smartphone.
How to protect your data from hackers
Remember no public Wi-Fi is safe. When some public Wi-Fi forces you to login after you are connected, they just want to save their assses in case something goes wrong. The best idea is to avoid public Wi-Fi as such.
Public Wi-Fi is a Cesspool
Though it is almost impossible not to use public Wi-Fi, you should take care about the things you do on public Wi-Fi. First and foremost, never ever use credit cards on a public network. Don’t buy stuff with your credit card on public Wi-Fi. This also includes banking, so dont login to your bank website on a public network.
Make sure you’re protected with antivirus and encryption. Use two-factor authentication and HTTPS sites when possible.
Public Wi-Fi is a Cesspool
Today, it’s almost impossible not to use public Wi-Fi.
Go in knowing the potential consequences. Don’t buy stuff with your credit card on public Wi-Fi. Share less sensitive information on public Wi-Fi. Make sure you’re protected with antivirus and encryption. Use two-factor authentication and HTTPS sites when possible.
Two-Factor Authentication for Passwords wherever possible
It is prudent to combine two factor authentication and VPNs to keep sensitive personal and financial information secure. VPNs make it difficult for hackers to read your password. 2FA just adds that bit of extra defence. Turn on two-factor authentication for all your web services (e.g., email, social networks, etc.). This simply means that when you try to login to a website, the website will text message your phone with a code that you’ll enter into the site in addition to your password.
Even if a hacker has your password, they won’t have your phone — which makes it much more difficult for them to login to your account.
No matter how many techniques you employ, none is better than keeping a constant vigilance. Most banks provide SMS facility to inform you about any transactions that are taking place in your account. Ditto for credit cards. Avail these facilities. For emails, enable the notifications so that any activity in your email account is shown on your smartphone screen even when it is locked.
Avoid unsafe or untrusted software (especially if it’s free or sounds too good to be true), and avoid dodgy links in your inbox, or on your social media feeds.
Tether Your Internet Connection
As said above, it is better to use your own network in place public Wi-Fi. If you have a remarkable data plan, you can tether off your mobile device or phone. Since this is a private connection, it’ll be much more difficult, and less rewarding, for a hacker to break into.
When you’re using public Wi-Fi, your computer or mobile phone sends data to the router like radio waves. You can defend yourself by encrypting your radio waves. Encrypting your data makes it almost impossible for peering eyes to see your data.
Sites that use HTTPS technology encrypt your connection. Websites like Facebook, Paypal, and Google secure your connection with HTTPS (not HTTP). A man in the middle attack occurs significantly less with these instances. (Here’s an in-depth technical explanation on StackExchange.)
Encrypt Your Connection with A VPN
Virtual Private Network (VPN) services act as a middleman between your computer and the rest of the Internet. In the process of connecting, VPNs encrypt your data. If you connect to public Wi-Fi and suffer a MITM attack, hackers would have to spend time and energy decoding your data because of the VPN’s encryption.
VPNs are resilient against packet sniffing as well. VPNs encrypt your packets so that a hacker can’t read it. With a VPN, your computer sends packets to the VPN’s server before moving towards the destination. The VPN encrypts each packet, so no hacker can read them between the VPN server and the website you’re visiting.
There are two things that can happen after you read this article. You may either brush it aside thinking that no hacker would ever hack your PC/laptop/smartphone or you you might know how unsettling it can be for a stranger to have your information. In the first case, most hack victims are first timers who never had never been hacked in their life because they thought like you. In the second case follow the above precautions. These precautions may seem excessive, but when you see those $$$$ debited in your bank account or charged to your credit card, you will remember this article.