The Risks of Unsecured WiFi Hotspots

Guest Post by Cassie Phillips

I would like to thank Anneke for publishing this article. Her site is a great place for tips and tricks to succeeding as a freelancer and for everything you need to know to have a successful career online. After reading this, I highly recommended you check out her post on finding WiFi anywhere, as she highlights—and resolves—a problem that many freelancers suffer from!

Public WiFi networks are a godsend for freelancers everywhere. Being able to connect no matter where you are, means that you can work on the road and keep up to date with your projects with convenience and ease.

However, while being able to pop into your local coffee shop for an hour or so to do a bit of writing or catching up on emails when you’re on the train can drastically benefit your career, there are also some little-known dangers of connecting so freely and unquestioningly that are worth being aware of.

Open Networks

The problem with public networks is, unlike home systems, they are open. This means that anyone can connect, and once hooked up, all data is publically available and shared with other users. While private networks encrypt your details so, even if more than one person is connected, they can’t share information without giving specific permissions.

This is not the case with free hotspots. On public networks, there is no encryption method at work, so whenever you log on and use the service, you are allowing anyone and everyone to intercept your data and view all of your online activities.

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What Are The Risks?

Because of this, you put yourself at significant risk whenever you chose to connect to a public network without taking the necessary precautions. Particularly for freelancers, using unsecured networks could end in disaster. If you are entering passwords, logging into sites and sharing work, it’s possible that all of that data is being intercepted by malicious prying eyes.

Alongside this, online identity theft is becoming extremely common all over the world, so sharing information on public networks is a great way for cyber criminals to collect your details before going on the use them for their own gain.

Why Does It Matter?

Most cyber criminals are after one thing: money. So if you work in a way where you receive online payments, then you are at a significantly higher risk. Logging into your email or bank account could mean that hackers can easily get their hands on your details and can access your money without much difficulty.

Similarly, by intercepting enough personal information about you, they have the means to commit cyber fraud. This usually involves applying for a loan or other form of credit using your details, taking the money and leaving you to pick up the pieces. This would be a disaster for any freelancer, so taking steps to overcome the risk is essential!


Rogue Hotspots

Unsecured public WiFi networks are becoming such a well-known risk—and are so profitable for cyber criminals—that many started to set up their own rogue hotspots specifically for the purpose of collecting information. As soon as you connect, hackers on the other end set to work storing all of your data and traffic information without you even knowing it’s happening.

A lot of the time, they’ll set up networks with similar names to trusted hotspot providers—such as well-known coffee chains like Starbucks or fast food outlets such as McDonalds—so it won’t raise suspicions. The best way to avoid falling victim to this is to ask for the specific name of the WiFi wherever you are, and ensure you connect to the point that is an exact match rather than just assuming and hoping for the best.

The Solutions

While public networks come with a lot of risks, they are a lifesaver for any freelancer, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be avoided completely. There are a few steps you can take to help secure yourself so you don’t have to forfeit the convenience they provide. First, ensure auto-connect is turned off on your device to avoid sharing data without knowing you’re doing so.

Next, it’s a good idea to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to protect yourself. A VPN is an extremely useful software package that creates an initial secure connection and encrypts your data so you can access public WiFi safely and securely.

While the risks of unsecured networks are very real and look to continue to develop as cybercriminals find new ways to intercept our data, the benefits of using them are too many to give up altogether. Fortunately, you can take the steps to protect yourself and connect with confidence.

If you have any more ways to protect yourself on public WiFi, be sure to leave a comment below and share your advice with fellow freelancers.

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