Thanks to the technological boom of recent years we can firmly say that the internet is virtually everywhere.
Many major cities have now installed free Wi-Fi hotspots for their citizens – helping them to meet up with friends or find the right bus home without having to pay for their own internet – while at the same time practically every home has a Wi-Fi router to serve a growing number of smart devices.
Sadly, though, people are less aware of the importance of securing Wi-Fi networks, leaving the door open for anyone with malicious intents to sniff out sensitive personal data, such as passwords. This is why you have to do everything in your possession to protect your credentials and still be able to use an unsecured Wi-Fi connection without worry.
Why Unsecured Wi-Fi Is a Threat
There are multiple problems with public or unprotected Wi-Fi in general. The lack of a password – the first line of defense against hacker attacks – is already disturbing, but the major concern regarding unsecured Wi-Fi is the fact that data is traveling to your computer without any encryption whatsoever. In simpler words, unlike a regular, secure internet connection where login credentials, credit card information and such all appear jumbled to an outside viewer thanks to encryption, an unsecured Wi-Fi connection transmits data as plain text meaning that with the right knowledge and equipment anybody can see what the others were doing. This is especially dangerous if password protected sites are accessed or credit card data is provided during a session, since a hacker can obtain all that information without having to worry about cracking a password.
Even worse is when you run into a so-called ‘Evil Twin’, an almost perfect replica of an existing public Wi-Fi hotspot that is created by criminals as bait: often it has a stronger signal to lure unsuspecting victims who, upon connecting to the network, unwillingly serve their personal data onto a silver platter for the hackers, whether said data is password protected or not.
How to Avoid Password Sniffing Over Unsecured Wi-Fi
The most logical solution would be to never connect to public or unsecured Wi-Fi networks, but this is an impossible ask in a world where mobile service providers offer mobile internet packages at ridiculously expensive rates. This is why it is you who has to take the precaution when surfing the web on a public network.
But thankfully, this task is pretty easy.
Look for HTTPS
If you need to access a password protected site or provide sensitive personal data, be sure to check the URL of the site you are accessing.
If it starts with ‘HTTPS’ then you are good to go, but if the URL starts with only ‘HTTP’ then it means the connection is not encrypted and is therefore a no-go for providing sensitive information.
A word of advice: certain sites like Facebook don’t provide encrypted connection throughout the entire session unless you enable it in your account’s settings. In other words: it’s best to have it turned on before you might need to access public Wi-Fi.
Use a Password Manager
It doesn’t matter what kind of device is being used or how the internet is accessed, a password manager is a vault that could never get compromised if you don’t lose control of your master password. The password manager stores all login credentials and other kinds of data in the cloud but only after they are encrypted with military-grade encryption; simply put, even if you are connected to an unsecure Wi-Fi network and a wrongdoer is snooping around for passwords, all they will see is a jumbled mess of characters.
There is one thing, though: when using public Wi-Fi, make sure that you open a site from the password manager’s vault. This way you can ensure data remains fully encrypted – since data encryption happens locally when using password managers – and you won’t disclose sensitive information in the usually vulnerable password manager browser add-on either.
Add a Little Spice With VPNs
Using a password manager is already a huge step in protecting your online identity, but the true icing on the cake is VPN, a virtual mask that hides all your web activity from prying eyes, whether it’s a hacker or your ISP. Basically the VPN does the exact same thing password managers do with login credentials, but instead of only your sensitive data a VPN encrypts every single data packet leaving your device, rendering any hacking attempt impossible.
Best Password Managers of 2019
|Editor's Choice 2019|