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The Dangers of Public Wi-Fi


Did you know?

  • 56% of people reported that they have (or would) connect to a public Wi-Fi that wasn't password-protected

  • 43% of people have had their online security compromised while using public Wi-Fi

  • ...and that over 30% of those people report that both of these circumstances happened with their work-from-home device?

This study on the dangers of public Wi-Fi isn't the only one: amid an exponential spike in data consumption in 2023 and beyond, many establishments are quick to offer free Wi-Fi to draw more customers to their premises. These days, it's common to access public Wi-Fi at restaurants, airports, public transit, or coffee shops.

However, this free access to public Wi-Fi often turns costly. People unwittingly put their personal and financial data in danger by ignoring the public Wi-Fi security risks involved... and businesses are paying the price.

So what are the ramifications of these data breaches, and how can you and your employees circumvent them? Our team of ethical hackers gives you the low-down in today's article.

Why is Public Wi-Fi Dangerous for Work-From-Home Employees?

Public Wi-Fi security risks occur when people use unsecured wireless networks in public places, such as airports, coffee shops, and libraries. Free or public Wi-Fi networks are often open and do not require passwords. While this offers convenience to people, who can work from anywhere, it lures cybercriminals, too. Hackers can use software to track all the connected computers and data packets and launch various sophisticated attacks to breach security and steal sensitive data. 

In fact, nearly 50% of Americans alone regularly use Wi-Fi hotspots for conducting financial transactions, while 18% admit to regularly using public Wi-Fi for remote work. According to cybercrime expert Hussam Khattab of The Jordan Times, "The biggest threat to free Wi-Fi security is the ability for the hacker to position themselves between the user and the connection point. Basically, it is a very easy penetration from the hacker to the user's device, where all user's data will be available. This includes credit card information, apps login and password, work data, etc."

With a sharp rise in remote and hybrid work cultures, the usage of public Wi-Fi will only rise and bring cybercriminals into play. Enterprises must invest in employee training to sensitize them to the public Wi-Fi security risks.

Common Free Wi-Fi Threats

What are some well-known techniques cybercriminals use to compromise your device on public or free Wi-Fi?

We're glad you asked.

1. Fake Wi-Fi Connection or Wi-Fi Spoofing

In this hacking technique, the attacker creates a fake Access Point (AP) or hotspot with the same name as the public Wi-Fi. This attack is also called evil twinning. Attackers can navigate all the victims' data and private information because attackers tricked the victim into joining the wrong network.

2. Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

In a MITM attack, a threat actor intercepts communication by positioning themselves right in the middle. The attacker sits between the user's device and the public Wi-Fi network. The attacker can eavesdrop on the user's activity by intercepting data packets and stealing sensitive information. Attackers generally target passwords, credit card numbers, or personal data.

3. Packet-Sniffing Attacks

In this technique, the attackers and the target victim must be on the same network. The attackers use freely available packet sniffer tools to capture all airborne information. Wireshark is one of the most popular and free packet-sniffing tools. It can capture all encrypted and unencrypted data packets of the target.

Attackers can also access the victim's computer, steal cookies and other information, or extract passwords. Common public Wi-Fi security risks also include shoulder surfing and side-jacking.

How to Mitigate Public Wi-Fi Security Risks

Most hackers seek easy targets. Therefore, taking a few precautions should keep users' information safe.

Here are some tips that can help you mitigate the threat:

  • The first option is to avoid public Wi-Fi connections and use mobile internet by enabling its hotspot

  • While connecting to an unsecured network, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). It creates a secure and encrypted connection to another network over the internet

  • When you visit any website on public Wi-Fi, always use HTTPS rather than HTTP

  • Users should always turn off file-sharing apps and refrain from using public Wi-Fi if there’s no urgent need

  • Users should turn off the automatic Wi-Fi connection option

  • Always have a firewall installed on your business devices

We recommend a professional compromise assessment be conducted for all businesses that have either work-from-home or hybrid structures. In a compromise assessment, our team uncovers zero-day malware, trojans, ransomware and other anomalies that may go unnoticed in standard automated vulnerability scans. The testing in these assessments includes a blend of automated and manual inspection that covers firewalls, endpoints, and servers to ensure a thorough examination of your IT infrastructure systems and apps.


Who have your remote employees let in lately?

The dangers of public Wi-Fi are rampant. It has never been more crucial for organizations to formulate strategies to sensitize their remote workforce and strengthen their overall security posture.

Contact us today to learn what you can do to keep your business assets protected.

Have Questions? Need a Quote?

Contact our team today to see how we can help improve your security posture. Get a no-obligation quote and a copy of our sample report to help you get started.