On the go, we usually can’t resist the temptation: We dial into the public WLAN to save mobile data. But before users start surfing wildly, they should consider a few things. TECHNOLOGY BUTTON explains what is important.
Hardly anything makes us as happy on the go and when traveling as the message on our smartphone that there is an open WLAN in the place where we are. At this moment, very few people think about the consequences, connect their cell phone to it immediately. Usually everyone is allowed in – without security for the users! Nevertheless, the chance of free data quickly decreases people’s inhibitions in restaurants, cafes or at the airport. Hardly any free surfer seems to consider how negligent this is.
“There’s a big difference between what most people find safe when they browse public Wi-Fi and the real world,” said Fran Rosch, executive vice president of Norton Symantec, referring to a 2017 report on Wi-Fi usage in 15 different countries. “What someone thinks is protected and private on their personal device can easily be viewed and accessed by hackers via insecure WiFi networks or with the help of vulnerabilities in apps,” continues Rosch.
The FBI warns of unsafe public WiFi
The problem with WiFi networks in public spaces, cafes and hotels is the low level of security. For the sake of simplicity, the networks are often only protected with weak passwords, which are also rarely or never changed. This enables hackers to carry out a so-called “Evil Twin” attack with little effort. In doing so, they create a network that has the same or a similar name as the public WLAN. You set the same password that is used for the real network.
So users can connect to these hacker networks without knowing that they are in the wrong WLAN. It is particularly dangerous if the smartphone is set so that it automatically connects to known networks. Because then the smartphone may automatically log into the hacker’s WiFi. This is possible because hotspots often do not use certificates that could protect against them.
To protect themselves, users can disable the automatic reconnection function. On the iPhone, this works under Settings> WLAN> Network name> Connect automatically and switch off the slider there. On an Android smartphone, the path is Settings> WiFi & Network> Network Name> Gear Icon> Advanced> Automatic Connection. There, too, simply move the slider to deactivate the function.
More tips for surfing the public WiFi
But how exactly should users behave in public WLAN? Internet connections that are protected by a network key / password offer a first security barrier. Nevertheless, unfortunately this does not offer complete security either. Your data is secured against people who are not connected to this network, but people in the network could continue to do mischief with it. Criminals can always wait for the naivete of users, especially in larger locations such as hotspots in public places.
It also depends on the encryption. With SSL encryption there is “https” in front of the Internet address in the URL. Encryption increases security when surfing the Internet.
VPN (Virtual Private Network) goes one step further. A VPN enables the user to transmit all of his data in encrypted form. Most providers charge money for the service, and Opera offers a free VPN.
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Less is more
In general, when it comes to public connections, less is more! Think carefully about what information you are willing to share in the unprotected space. Because you can never know who is reading at the same time. Therefore, you should be careful with very sensitive data such as bank details and avoid making such sensitive information in open WLAN. Only then can you really be sure that nobody is spying on your data.