Using Public Wi-Fi: How to Stay Secure

Nathan MaxwellIT Security, Our InsightsLeave a Comment

person using public wi-fi

Businesses today are operating in unprecedented times. Although offices nationwide have begun the process of reopening, Gallup reported that 59% of employees would prefer to work remotely as much as possible even after restrictions have been lifted. One question that arises when considering the implications of working virtually is: how do businesses stay safe if employees use public Wi-Fi?

Public Wi-Fi

Anytime you connect to an internet hotspot in a public place like your favorite coffee shop, at the airport, or in a hotel, you are accessing public Wi-Fi. There are two types of networks you can join:

  • Unsecured networks allow users to connect for free when in range.
  • Secured networks will require some form of login via a password, waiver, registration form, etc. These can be free but may require patronage or a fee for use.

Risks

One of the primary risks associated with public Wi-Fi use is falling victim to a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack. Broadly, MITM attacks occur when cybercriminals spy on users by intercepting data between their device and a website or service provider. But MITM can manifest in a variety of ways:

  • Spoofing — when a user is tricked into connecting to a fake IP address, accessing a bogus DNS, or their browser is manipulated to access unsecured or malicious websites
  • Hijacking — when an attacker uses another device to intercept data between a user and a website’s SSL or intercepts the emails between a business and its customers to eventually take over communication
  • Malicious networks/eavesdropping — when a user is tricked into connecting to a fake network hosted by a cybercriminal based on the legitimacy of its name
  • Stealing cookies — when an attacker hijacks bits of stored information from a user
  • Snooping/sniffing — when cybercriminals install hardware onto a network router to track the activity of users

Other risks of utilizing public Wi-Fi include things like malware and computer worms, but the end goal of all cyberattacks is the same: attain credentials, intellectual property, or sensitive data in pursuit of monetary gain. 

Protecting your information

Despite the risks, it is possible to reasonably and securely connect to public Wi-Fi by following a few ground rules.

  • Disable Bluetooth and auto-connect functionality to network/hotspot settings.
  • Select a secure network when possible. There’s still risk, but it’s less.
  • Verify the network name before connecting — most businesses post this in customer sight.
  • Visit only encrypted websites (HTTPS).
  • Before joining a public W-Fi network, login to web accounts where you need access. Avoid using passwords and do not access websites or apps that expose sensitive information.
  • Utilize two-factor authentication.
  • Install a VPN for use outside the office.

An important step in ensuring the cybersecurity of your business involves properly training your team to identify and manage security threats themselves. With a shift toward remote work imminent, update your employees on the guidance above—and ask them to secure their home network while they are at it. 

Have questions about how to stay secure in the office, on the go, or at home? Comment below or contact us to learn more. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *