You’ve just alighted at the airport, and upon checking your phone, you realize that there is WiFi. To say the least, you will likely hit connect, wouldn’t you? After all, who doesn’t want to save on mobile data? Yes, the feeling is just irresistible. Welcome to the world of public WiFi.
These days, free public WiFi is available in malls, hotels, restaurants, shopping centres, libraries, and even parks. However, it comes with its potential downsides, with the notable one being the threat posed by hackers.
What are the Risks of Public WiFi?
The luring features that entice consumers to use public WiFi are the same ones that make hackers prefer the network. Notably, it doesn’t require authentication to establish a connection. And that’s where cybercriminals find a loophole. They have unrestricted access to unsecured devices on the public network.
With unrestricted access, hackers can maliciously position themselves between you and the connection point, creating a hotspot buffer. So while you think that you are communicating with the hotspot, you’ll actually be sending information to malicious elements.
In such an ecosystem, hackers access all information emanating from your device, including sensitive ones like credit card information and bank details. Worse still, the hacker can access your security credentials, which he can authoritatively use to compromise your systems.
Apart from positioning themselves between you and the connection point, hackers can also use public WiFi to distribute malware. Notably, if you are the type that engages in file sharing, hackers can insert malicious software on your device. And if you are not careful, they can use pop-ups windows on the pretext of upgrading software only for them to install malware upon clicking.
So does it mean that we shouldn’t use public WiFi? Not at all. Airport WiFi (or any public WiFi) is convenient, but we must learn how to use it safely. In other words, we have to be smarter than hackers. And that’s why we have to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Virtual Private Network (VPNs)
Using unsecured public WiFi means you are exposing your private information. A VPN is a private network that protects you from exposing your private information to potential hackers. Basically, the private network encrypts and transmits data while it travels the source to the destination on the internet.
How VPN helps to reduce such risks
When you connect to an unsecured public WiFi network, it could be a fake network that mimics the legitimate one. The motivation for setting up the WiFi is simple – to lure you into connecting. And as to pass time as you wait for the next flight, train, or cup of coffee, you are tempted to connect. The owner of such a network could be malicious and may be using spying tools to view your internet activities.
When you connect to the internet with a VPN, you will first be routed to the VPN provider’s servers. The server immediately assigns you a unique set of numbers known as IP address to identify your device. Therefore, you will not use your own IP address. Instead, you will use that of your VPN provider
Secondly, your internet connection is encrypted. This means that any data emanating from your device is converted to code as it travels to the VPN server. By doing this, unauthorized parties cannot access your data
So, with a VPN, when using public WiFi, your traffic will be routed through an encrypted tunnel to the VPN’s company server. What does this mean? Simple, your ISP or any third party connected to your router won’t see your web traffic. Once the traffic leaves the VPN server, it enters the public internet. So, unless you are destined to an HTTPS website, your traffic will no longer remain encrypted.
Due to the routing of traffic through the VPN’s server, your real IP address is concealed. The concealment is vital because these addresses are distributed by geographical location and can be used to pinpoint your locality. So, with a VPN, snoopers trying to identify your location (suppose you are in Lisbon) will only see the VPNs location, which could be a server in Berlin.
Thirdly, the VPN allows you to browse privately without leaving your browsing history. Typically, whenever you browse, you leave a digital footprint that can be used by hackers to get sensitive information. Moreover, most ISPs store your browsing history for at least 90 days. However, with a VPN, you can circumvent the ISPs and surf the web securely and privately.
Selection of VPNs
Having learned how VPNs can reduce the risk of using private WiFi, you could be wondering, how do I get the best VPN? Well, you sure should because there are several of them in the market, with some free. But don’t be tempted by free things because we’ve already seen that free WiFi has its risks.
Considering that you are after privacy and security, your VPN choice should be aligned towards that objective. You should find a service that provides a secure channel that connects you to any websites, especially the sensitive sites. Notably, Switcherry fits the bill because it doesn’t just connect you securely, but also does not keep logs of your browsing history. What’s more, it comes with built-in adblocker that doesn’t let you download another separate App to access such features unlike other VPNs.
Moreover, Switcherry doesn’t have data restrictions neither weekly nor monthly. So with it, be assured that you’ll use the internet unrestricted. In fact, the VPN is beneficial in unblocking the websites that are blocked in your region. If you are in a foreign country, maybe at the airport and you need to make an urgent financial transaction, you don’t need to worry if PayPal operates in the country. And as if that’s not enough, you can also download the Switcherry App from App Store (iOS) and Play Store (Android) to secure your network devices.
Importantly, when selecting a good VPN, look for one that has built-in protection. For example, Switcherry blocks malicious websites and ads before you notice. The feature reduces the chances of your computer downloading a malware tracker. And that’s not all. It also lets you watch videos without the irritating interruptions of advertisements.