Wi-Fi users are at risk from hackers, but fortunately there are safeguards against them. The recent explosion of free, public Wi-Fi has been an enormous boon for working professionals. Since these free access points are available at restaurants, hotels, airports, bookstores, and even random retail outlets, you are rarely more than a short trip away from access to your network, and your work. This freedom comes at a price, though, and few truly understand the public Wi-Fi risks associated with these connections. Learning how to protect yourself will ensure your important business data remains safe.
The Risks of a Public Wi-fi
The same features that make free Wi-Fi hotspots desirable for consumers make them desirable for hackers; namely, that it requires no authentication to establish a network connection. This creates an amazing opportunity for the hacker to get unfettered access to unsecured devices on the same network.
The biggest threat to free Wi-Fi security is the ability for the hacker to position himself between you and the connection point. So instead of talking directly with the hotspot, you're sending your information to the hacker, who then relays it on.
While working in this setup, the hacker has access to every piece of information you're sending out on the Internet: important emails, credit card information and even security credentials to your business network. Once the hacker has that information, he can — at his leisure — access your systems as if he were you.
Hackers can also use an unsecured Wi-Fi connection to distribute malware. If you allow file-sharing across a network, the hacker can easily plant infected software on your computer. Some ingenious hackers have even managed to hack the connection point itself, causing a pop-up window to appear during the connection process offering an upgrade to a piece of popular software. Clicking the window installs the malware.
As mobile Wi-Fi becomes increasingly common, you can expect Internet security issues and public Wi-Fi risks to grow over time. But this doesn't mean you have to stay away from free Wi-Fi and tether yourself to a desk again. The vast majority of hackers are simply going after easy targets, and taking a few precautions should keep your information safe.