Unsecured and Public WI-FI: How to Protect Your Information
The purpose of most Internet scams is to get your personal information and use it fraudulently.
Typically, the scammer in this case will try to get your full name, your social security number, credit card information, home address or any other information he or she can use.
If this happens, you may find that money disappears from your bank accounts, credit cards are opened in your name or you’ve contracted a computer virus and then sent it off to your friends.
While something like this can happen anywhere, it’s much more likely to happen when you’re using public WiFi.
How it Works
Unless you’re at Starbucks, you don’t know who set up the WiFI system or how. Therefore, you don’t know how secure the connection is.
There’s always some danger on public WiFi, even at a place like Starbucks or the public library, but generally speaking, if you know the vendor, it’s probably fairly safe to connect.
However, an issue arises when you aren’t familiar with the system you’re logging into.
Scammers can exist outside the system, meaning that many will just wait around a public area, like an open market, to gain access to your information.
That said, in rare cases, it could be that the people who set up the Internet connection did so in order to make it easier for them to get your information.
Examples of Common Scams
Scams on public WiFi take a couple of forms. Each tries in its own way to steal your personal information, like your bank accounts, your personal identification information and social media passwords.
Below, you’ll read some of the most common types of threats you’ll face as a public WiFi user.
1. Holes in the Bluetooth Connection
Public WiFi systems also have flaws that hackers will try to take advantage of, like holes in a Bluetooth network. Devices that have Bluetooth connectivity will “chat” with one another. Once they start talking, the neighborhood hacker will likely try to get into the conversation, so to speak.
2. Legitimate Looking Fakes
Hackers will create doppelgängers of legitimate sites. For example, you may try to log onto the Internet at the local Starbucks and see two options, with slightly different names, like Main_Street_Starbucks and Star-bucks. It’s always best in these cases to find out which is the right one before logging on because one is probably bogus.
3. Sweetening the Pot
If the hackers don’t create a doppelgänger to draw you in, then they may bring out what’s called the honeypot. Usually, this is an Internet moniker that advertises itself as free WiFi or something of that nature.
Naturally, there is no password required. By not requiring a password, you get log into the free Internet, no questions asked. That’s when the hacker will go to work: Now you’re on his or her network, and all bets are off.
4. Per Use Charges
Another variation on the scheme is an attempt to get you to pay to log onto the Internet. Places like Starbucks don’t usually charge you to use the Internet because you’ve paid for something at the counter, like a coffee or a muffin or a sandwich. The public WiFi networks that charge probably aren’t legitimate. Their purpose is to get you to log on so in the hopes that you’ll check your email, your bank accounts and other sensitive accounts. The hacker can then steal that information.
Red Flags to Look Out For
- If you go to a site that asks you for your personal information when you sign up, think twice about giving that information up. This kind of setup is a prime target for hackers. If you can’t avoid this, at least give out an alternative email and try to give as few pieces of personal information as possible.
- If you see duplicate options, like the Starbucks example above, always find out which is the legitimate WiFi address by asking someone who works in the establishment.
- Avoid open networks labeled “Free WiFi” (or something similar). It’s probably a scam.
- WiFi networks that ask you to pay to use may be a phishing scheme to get your passwords, credit card information and other sensitiveÂ
information. Avoid them.
- Always check the URLs for websites, particularly if something seems off about a site. Hackers will create a fake version of a legitimate site, like PayPal, in order to build your trust.
- Pay attention to warnings from your antivirus (or other computer defense systems) that tell you a connection is not secure. Do not go onto the site in question. Close the window instead.
Tips on How to Protect Your Information
There are ways to protect yourself if you must use public WiFi. When you must, keep the following tips in mind.
- Places like Starbucks or the public library will require a password, which you have to ask the staff for and which means that the network is a bit more secure for use. These systems often come with terms of service. They also sometimes require the user to set up an account with that network. These fail-safe measures are exactly that: ways to keep patrons safer when they’re using the Internet.
- If you can avoid checking your more sensitive accounts, then do so. Unless it’s an emergency, wait to check your bank balance, your credit card account and other like accounts until you know youâ€™re using a safe network.
- When you log onto public WiFi, try to avoid sites that don’t have the HTTPS encryption in the URL. If the site is not secure, it’ll read as “Not Secure” in your browsers heading, Or depending on your browser, present a more in-your-face warning screen that the site is not HTTPS.
- If that isn’t an option, then use the hotspot created by your phone to check those accounts. This connection will be a bit more secure.
Summary and Resources
Identity theft is a 21st century problem that destroys people’s credit and robs them of cash and assets. Some of these situations can also put your in physical danger:
Thieves who get your home address can pay you a visit when you’re not home.
Therefore, it’s best to know what modern online scams look like in order to protect yourself and your belongings.