Open Wi-Fi, and Why Not to Use It
With football season in full swing, it’s important to keep your personal data extra-safe. Leaving your phone settings to automatically connect to open, no-password Wi-Fi is a dangerous practice, and here’s why:
Whether it’s at a Starbucks right down the street, the McDonalds you always swing by after work, or the TCU Football Stadium, open Wi-Fi is never truly safe for your device. It may seem like a harmless task to try to quickly buy a new phone charger during the halftime break at a TCU game, but if you’re on a website that is unsecure (or even one that is secure), you’re putting yourself at unnecessary risk. Hackers can easily buy a Wi-Fi antenna off online sites that allows them to spoof anyone who is on the public Wi-Fi – and by easily, this little piece of hardware is around $15 on Amazon.
The way that the hackers obtain your personal information is simple, too; the Internet information going from your device to the server of the website you are on can be intercepted by the antenna, which then allows the user to see the information you are sending. This information is sent via packets – bundles of data that your device and the website’s servers send to each other as a means of communication. Packets can contain credit card information, login passwords, bank accounts, and other sensitive information. Picture an invisible filter in between you and the website; it’s not blocking anything from being communicated, and you don’t know it’s there, but it is able to see everything you and the other server are sending to each other. From there, it’s too easy to sell your data to a third party or use the collected information to hack into your accounts.
Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, have applications that can help eliminate some of the risk associated with publicly accessing your accounts. The free services are often unreliable because they could be mining your data for their own uses, but there are VPNs with monthly subscriptions that much more trustworthy. They also have apps available! These VPNs encrypt all your data for you on your computer. Only their network can decipher your traffic and point your device in the right direction. Many VPNs hide anything you’re doing on your device and allow you to remain completely anonymous while surfing online. Most of these services also do their own “spoofing” and make the traffic coming from your device look like it is coming from a completely different location – like somewhere halfway across the world.
VPN’s have their advantages, but they’re also not foolproof. Connecting to an open Wi-Fi is always risky, no matter the precautions you might be taking. VPN’s have a couple of additional drawbacks: they tend to slow the Internet connection down, and often they are tracking your data for their own uses. So, perhaps waiting to order your phone charger until you’re back in the safety of your own home is the best course of action!