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You’re at the mall and that Snapchat you need to send won’t go out. The screen sits and loads, the little ghost icon bobs up and down. Open the settings and there it is, the saving grace — free WiFi.

This scenario has been played out multiple times in stores, theme parks, and restaurants. But who set up the network? There’s always a chance that public connection has a hacker.

Public WiFi may not be encrypted, meaning that the hackers can steal your information or give your device malware. According to the Norton Cybersecurity Insights Report, more than 600 million users around the world are cybercrime victims, and most of these crimes stem from hackers lurking on public connections.

Here are some of the most common public WiFi issues security experts see: 

  • Man in the middle attack: A Man in the Middle attack, known as MITM, is when a third-party accesses communication between other parties without anyone realizing it. The third-party can view everything sent between the other two unsuspecting victims, the hackers can even change the information sent.
  • Rogue hotspots: A rogue hotspot is a Wi-Fi access point that has been set up by an attacker. The attackers use trusted network names to lure people in, sometimes known as an Evil Twin. Hackers eavesdrop on their connections and can collect the user details like credit card information and banking details.
  • Malware: Hackers can even push malware onto devices by redirecting people to websites to push Mobile Remote Access Trojan, which is disguised as a file that is “beneficial” to the user and then takes over the devices.

Using public WiFi is a risk; there is always a chance that someone is lurking. However, there are ways to stay safe when using public hotspots.

  • Limit access: When you are on a public connection, try not to access anything that has personal information attached to it. If there is someone lurking, they will be able to get important data.
  • VPN: VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and is used to protect your connection as well as personal information online. It encrypts your data and hides your IP address, which lets you browse without fear of someone snooping.
  • Secure connections: A secure connection will encrypt the information being sent between two parties. It can verify that the other party the data is being exchanged with is safe.

When browsing, whether it is on a private network or public there are ways to see if a website you have been directed to is safe. Most websites will encrypt data for you with the Transport Layer Security, TLS. This is an authentication and security protocol that is implemented in almost any browser and web server.

Types of Internet Encryption:

  • HTTPS: Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, the main Internet protocol for encryption
  • POPS: Post Office Protocol, receiving email encryptions. It is not used as often as IMAP but it is still around
  • NNTPS: Network News Transfer Protocol, is encryption used for transporting users between news serves and for users to read or posting articles online.

When using the internet, it is always best to play it safe. Make sure devices are up to date with the latest software. Use a VPN for at-home or on-the-go browsing. Utilize antivirus software to scan for any viruses that could have been pushed onto your devices. UAB IT offers both VPNs and antivirus software for faculty, staff, and students to use for a cyber-safe campus.

Learn more about how to stay cyber safe by visiting our security webpage.