Why Public WiFi Is Insecure?
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Why Public WiFi Is Insecure?

Basics

Many locations now offer free public WiFi access. Airports, hotels, and coffee shops are among the places that offer free internet connection as a perk for their customers. This has made it easier for people to stay connected outside, especially for business travelers who can access work emails and share documents online.

Nonetheless, using public WiFi hotspots comes with significant risks that many users may not be aware of. Most of these risks stem from the potential of Man in the Middle attacks.

What Is a Man in the Middle Attack?

A malicious technique called the Man in the Middle (MitM) attack involves an intruder intercepting the communication between two parties. MitM attacks can come in various forms, but one of the most common is creating a counterfeit webpage that appears legitimate when a user tries to access a website. This could happen to any website, including online banking, file sharing, and email providers.

Consider the example of Alice attempting to check her email. If a hacker manages to intercept the communication between her device and the email provider, the hacker can trick Alice with a fake website, resulting in a MitM attack. The hacker could obtain her login credentials and use her email account to send phishing emails to Alice's contacts, among other malicious activities.

A Man in the Middle is a third party that pretends to be a legitimate intermediary by intercepting data sent between two points. Typically, MitM attacks try to deceive users into entering their sensitive data into a counterfeit website, but they can also be used to eavesdrop on private conversations.

WiFi Eavesdropping

A form of MitM attack is WiFi eavesdropping, in which a hacker monitors anyone who connects to a public WiFi network. The information obtained can range from personal data to patterns in internet traffic and browsing.

This technique involves creating a counterfeit WiFi network with a name similar to that of a legitimate one, also known as the Evil Twin method. For example, if there are three available WiFi networks in a coffee shop with names such as CoffeeShop, CoffeeShop1, and CoffeeShop2, at least one is likely to be a fake network created by a fraudster.

Hackers use this method to capture data from any device that connects to the fraudulent network, allowing them to obtain sensitive data, such as login credentials and credit card information.

WiFi eavesdropping is just one of the dangers associated with public networks, so it is preferable to avoid using them. If you need to use public WiFi, always verify with an employee whether it is authentic and secure.

Packet Sniffing

Packet sniffing is the practice of intercepting and analyzing data packets transmitted over a network. Packet sniffers are software tools that allow IT professionals to monitor network traffic and diagnose issues. Unfortunately, cybercriminals can also use packet sniffers to capture sensitive information and use it for malicious purposes, such as identity theft or corporate espionage.

Packet sniffers can be particularly dangerous when used on public WiFi networks, where anyone can access the network and potentially intercept data. Even seemingly harmless activities, such as checking email or browsing social media, can leave users vulnerable to packet sniffing attacks.

To protect against packet sniffing, it is important to use secure connections, such as encrypted websites (HTTPS) or virtual private networks (VPNs). It is also advisable to avoid using public WiFi networks for sensitive activities, such as online banking or making purchases.

Cookies Theft and Session Hijacking

Cookies Theft and Session Hijacking are two types of cyber attacks that involve intercepting and stealing small packets of data called cookies. Cookies are stored locally on a user's computer to retain browsing information and facilitate communication with websites. They allow users to stay logged in without re-entering their credentials and are used to record items in shopping carts or monitor browsing activity.

While cookies themselves cannot harm a computer, they can be dangerous in terms of privacy and are often used in Man in the Middle attacks. Attackers can intercept and steal cookies, which allows them to impersonate the victim and access personal information on their behalf.

Session hijacking is a successful technique that attackers use to impersonate victims and communicate with websites on their behalf. This attack can occur frequently at public WiFi hotspots, which are more vulnerable to MitM attacks. Cybercriminals often use these techniques to gather sensitive data and perform illegal activities.

Top 8 Tips for Protecting Yourself Against Man in the Middle Attacks

To protect yourself against MitM attacks, take these precautionary measures: 

  • Disable automatic WiFi connection settings and turn off file sharing when not in use.
  • Use password-protected WiFi networks whenever possible. If public WiFi is the only option, avoid sending or accessing sensitive information.
  • Keep your operating system and antivirus software updated.
  • Avoid financial transactions, including cryptocurrency, while using public networks.
  • Utilize websites that use HTTPS protocol, but be aware that HTTPS spoofing may occur.
  • Consider using a VPN, especially when accessing sensitive or business-related data.
  • Be cautious of fake WiFi networks, and confirm the authenticity of the network with staff before connecting.
  • Turn off WiFi and Bluetooth when not in use, and avoid connecting to public networks unless necessary.

Conclusion

To avoid becoming a victim of cybercriminals looking to access people's data, it is important to remain informed and vigilant. Public WiFi networks pose numerous risks. However, password-protected connections can help mitigate most of these risks. It is essential to learn about how these attacks work and the steps you can take to protect yourself.

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