Free Wifi may not be all that you want it to be

Remote working offers the wonderful opportunity to take your work with you, no matter where you may go. Whether you’re bringing the laptop on a cross-country trip or you prefer the comfy hustle of a café in the mornings as the backdrop to your professional life, it’s a very attractive freedom to have, indeed.

It seems like our choice of work environments has grown exponentially to create levels of access we’ve never seen before, as well. Public spaces are catering to the need for continuous connectivity across the board, which can seem like an advantage, but it might open some dangerous doors, too.

However, if you’re working outside of your home or of a space that offers access to private Wi-Fi, then you’re instead relying on unsecured public Wi-Fi. It’s important to be educated about the risks. As convenient as they may be, as free and accessible as they are, this makes them just as much a nesting ground for malicious actors.

Man-in-the-middle attacks

Because connections are unsecured, then they are also easier to intercept and manipulate if you have the technology. As such, when you use public Wi-Fi networks, there could be someone who sees each and every data packet you’re sending and receiving, which could include professional login details and financial information.

When you’re a public network, it’s wise to make sure you’re not using it to input or send any information that could be used by others to commit fraud in your name or to steal from you. Be aware that people can manipulate your connection to redirect you to untrustworthy sites, as well.

Beware the fake network

Also known as honeypots, there are Wi-Fi networks that are set up to look like something that they are not. Consider your local café. There’s nothing from stopping a locally based malicious actor from setting up a Wi-Fi network that has the exact same name as that café, making people think that it’s the café’s network.

This can make you vulnerable to all sorts of dangers, as they can be used to steal your IP address, device information, and any other information you might share while connected. Again, they’re also regularly used to send you to fake versions of real websites, often in an attempt to steal your login information.

Don’t think that a password protects you

Public secured networks aren’t that much safer than public unsecure networks, unfortunately. Yes, the café, hotel, or restaurant might have a password that they give to you, but how many other people have that password?

Even with a secure public network, you should take care on how you use that connection, sticking to secured websites, taking extra steps to ensure that you’re visiting legitimate websites, and encrypting any data you send over the network.

Direct attacks through the network

You should always be wary of devices that are set up to automatically connect to your networks. If your phone or laptop will connect to random public networks while you’re simply moving from place to place, you never know what you’re connecting to. Some hackers will make use of this feature, connecting directly with their own network to your device.

From there, they can commit what’s known as peer-to-peer attacks, loading your device with malware that could pose a serious risk. Having a strong, premium anti-malware software suite on your device is essential for this reason amongst others. However, it’s better to make sure your device doesn’t automatically connect to any networks except your own, and that you don’t have file sharing turned on, which effectively opens the door for peer-to-peer attacks.

You could open the door to your employers’ and clients’ business

Having your personal data stolen and misused is bad enough, but when you’re working remotely, it’s not just yourself that you’re putting at risk. If you’re logging into company email addresses, Cloud storage, SaaS tools, or resources provided by the client, you could also be letting the hackers come in after you.

The vast majority of business breaches are not caused by hackers who have learned to crack secure systems, but rather by employees, contractors, and legitimate users who have left a severe security risk that they are able to take advantage of. You should never use unsecured public Wi-Fi networks to log into resources that are provided by employers or contractors.

Always encrypt your public Wi-Fi use with a VPN

If you want to still make use of unsecured public Wi-Fi networks despite the risk, then you should take some precautions to make it as safe as possible. Encryption is the best method possible. What this does is effectively hide your IP address and any information or data packets you send by converting it into unreadable code.

No method of protection is completely guaranteed, but encryption offers substantial protection against a wide range of attacks. One of the best tools to encrypt your data is the VPN. VPNs make use of remote servers, which your device connects to, that encrypt all your data. They can be used to hide your IP, your browsing history, and even your location. It takes a great deal of effort and resources to decrypt your data once it goes through a VPN. Most hackers either won’t have the know-how to do it or will think their time better spent targeting those who are less security aware.

There are a host of free VPNs, but it’s widely recommended that you invest in a premium alternative, as they tend to be better secured, as well as offering faster connections.

Be aware of the risks

Besides using VPNs, there are other ways to make public networks at least a little safer. Sticking to secured HTTPS websites, turning off your auto-connect, and paying for high-quality anti-malware and security software can all help.

However, if you don’t have a VPN, the single best way to avoid the risk that public unprotected networks bring is simply to avoid using them. Sometimes, it can’t be done, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t minimise your risk when you have the chance.

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