To connect or Not to connect is the question of our time. ‘Wi-Fi’ this tiny four-letter word gives us such incomparable joy and if it’s working perfectly then life is sorted and if it’s available to use for free then it seems God has blessed us directly.
Wi-Fi (other than mobile data) has become an essential part of our life. Streaming Netflix, YouTube and that IPL match in HD vision on Wi-Fi are so good that we don’t have to worry about mobile data being exhausted.
Connecting and using your private Wi-Fi is great but what happens when you connect to a free or open wi-fi network. Personal Wi-Fi or open Wi-Fi, how secure are both? Rather what could happen and how you should be more concerned about your online safety rather than fall for the free Wi-Fi trap. So today in Times and Temptations of Free Wi-fi we have a question:
Should You Connect Your Devices to Free or Public Wi-Fi?
We have a person XYZ to demonstrate what could go wrong. XYZ is in a cafe and since the cafe wants to attract customers they are providing free Wi-Fi. While in the café, XYZ carried on some activities online using their Wi-Fi mainly
- Logged in into a payment portal
- Logged in into social media platform, say Instagram
- Used email on their network
For another day, XYZ checked into a hotel (expensive or not doesn’t matter). Here he carried on the following activities:
- Used the network to stream online entertainment (probably logged in on that website as well)
- To do a banking transactions
- To check email
- To book travel tickets
- Logged in into online shopping website/app
- Posted geo location on Facebook and Instagram (for the humble purposes of mentioning that he is chilling and hustling)
And after this XYZ is carrying on with his life like sunshine and rainbow, unaware of the fact that he has left his web traffic details on a free network somewhere. Here we see that XYZ is just another guy who knows how to connect to any free Wi-Fi (without being vigilant of what harm it can cause). He can get into real trouble for having his login credentials and web traffic on a free Wi-Fi network.
Public or Free Wi-Fi is inherently less secure. It was set up by that commercial place and we don’t know what IT and network practice, the administrator has followed. Many people connect to the public network and this at times leaves the ground for potential misuse. Something as sensitive as a Bank login to be done on public or free Wi-Fi network is like making yourself stand on a railway track where one unfortunate day a train is coming right behind you and you will neither see it nor hear it.
What people don’t realize is that carrying on any information sensitive activity on a public Wi-Fi network mindlessly can cost you your safety in cyberspace, make you a victim of bank fraud or even identity theft. Regular people, our parents, colleagues and the ones who are yet to get a taste of full-fledged usage of Wi-Fi mainly public and free Wi-Fi are unaware of the basic safety measures to be taken.
Data (all the web traffic) can be intercepted (it is being intercepted) on such public wi-fi networks. There are countless advance and mind-boggling ways in which data or your web traffic can be intercepted but public and free Wi-Fi networks are first in line to be getting shot in the foot and exploited. It is not safe to connect to a public Wi-Fi network and carry out banking transactions, transfer or share sensitive data over it, share any information of your whereabouts and most importantly login over it.
Also, next in line is connecting to your friend’s Wi-Fi or office Wi-Fi. Are you sure that your friends’Wi-Fi is secure and that their password is been regularly changed or at least it’s hidden from any public search? Do ask that to your friend next time. Offices though have a good amount of IT personnel to take care of their network but if it is compromised and you are using it for personal use then you are making a mistake to trust blindly.
A wi-fi connection should be secure from both ‘ISP or Administrator Side‘ and the ‘end-user’. Security is not to be taken lightly, keep a good alphanumeric password rather than ‘1234568‘. The open networks are not secure and most of all their remote administration can be bypassed. As an End-User you should go for a better password rather than convenience, ISP’s mostly recommend easy passwords like the above or they keep such passwords if the end-user is not that aware.
How To Make Yourself Secure?
Keep basic safety measures in place, suppose there is a data connection or Wi-Fi crisis with you and you ‘must’ do a transaction or use it for any web activity then, remember these:
- HTTPs is here for us, don’t browse sites with URL label ‘Not Secure’ as the traffic on such websites is not protected by encryption.
- On a public network if mistakenly you logged in into your bank portal or someone you know who has done the same then it is advisable to immediately change the password and any security-related questions.
- Delete your Mobile or Desktop browsing history, cookies, and auto-fill data.
- Delete payment methods if any saved in the browser.
- Shopping online over an open network should not be done either.
- Mobile data hotspot should be shared only with a password and not otherwise. When not using it turn it off, even Bluetooth and/or Airdrop too. Don’t accept request from unpaired or unknown devices, rename your device as many people have the same mobile and the mobile model is the default name of the device.
Not every website which shows a URL label as Not Secure is malicious or is out to steal your credentials. Just know, it is best to not sign up or login on such websites. Downloading any media too should be avoided. Making payments on such websites is strongly discouraged. Wi-Fi is tempting and free Wi-Fi is far more tempting. Saving INR 100 on data refill and giving out your safety on the web ready to exploit is a poor bargain. Plain browsing of the web without logging in or rather browsing in Incognito is to an extent alright. Here VPN can come as a rescue when you do not want the traffic to be mapped to you (use only the trusted ones, don’t use it because your friend has sent you the link and he/she is pestering you to gain referral offer or discount).
Lastly, commercial and public establishments (cafes, hotels, airports, etc) provide the public Wi-Fi as a part of the service but please keep the mentality of ‘getting my money’s worth’ away in such a situation. The cyberspace is full of surprises and horrors, think ten times before connecting to a public network and twice that before carrying out any activity on the public network.