Top 3 Dangers of Public Wi-Fi

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Many of us use free WiFi without thinking about the security risks.
How NOT to get hacked on public wifi

I was sitting at Starbucks the other day, and the thought occurred to me, “how many people know how dangerous public Wi-Fi is?”.

This article I’ll discuss things you can do to stay protected in public Wi-Fi spaces as well as the Top 3 Dangers of Public Wi-Fi.

Stranger danger!

Public WI-FI hotspots are nothing new to any of us; we love to go to our coffee shops that provide us WI-FI. However, many people don’t understand the hidden risks of connecting to a network outside of the home or office.

Unfortunately, hackers have devised ways to easily get your information and files if you don’t have certain protections in place, especially on public networks that anyone can connect to.


Fake Hotspots

One of the major problems with using public Wi-Fi is whether the access point is legitimate.

Suppose you are at Starbucks, and you connect to their ATTWi-Fi, but you notice there are two networks with the same name. Which one should you connect to?Fake wifi signal

This problem occurs when an attacker sets up a fake access point. All your data will be routed through the attacker’s computer when you connect to the wrong one, allowing the attacker to record anything you do online.

Connecting to a fake access point is dangerous because you won’t  know that your identity is being stolen right from under your nose!

Fake hotspots are particularly a problem in places such as:

  • Airports
  • Coffee shops
  • Schools
  • Libraries
  • Malls

What types of information can be stolen from a public WI-FI network?

Simply launching a program called a “packet sniffer,” like the one below reveals your IP address, and any username or password information.

A hacker doesn’t even need to be tech savvy, consider the following image of a password sniffer. It’s a simple program anyone can download and run with a few clicks.

Top 3 Dangers of Public Wi-Fi - password sniffing program

Here you can see the program has captured three computers and deciphered the username and password on each device.

It’s scary how easily an attacker can get your information without you even knowing. Luckily, there are steps you can take to prevent this from happening!

The Top 3 Dangers of Public Wi-Fi:

Free Wi-Fi is not secure

Free Wi-Fi is useful for us, however, since there is no password to gain access there is no protection from security risks.

Using your VPN on public WI-FI encrypts your data, so any attacker who is on the same Wi-Fi hotspot as you won’t be able to read your information easily. To get a VPN set up, check out our VPN guide here.

Network Sharing has Unintended Consequences

Change your devices sharing options. When you are at home or work, your computer allows itself to search and communicate with other devices. This is so you can join your home Wi-Fi, discover nearby Bluetooth devices or share files between devices.

In a public network setting, this is dangerous because an attacker can trick your computer into connecting to a malicious device and take it over. 

Turning off network sharing goes a long way to protecting you while at your favorite coffee spot with Wi-Fi.

In Windows: Open your Control Panel, then browse to Network and the Internet > Network and Sharing Center, then click Choose Change Advanced Sharing Settings. Top 3 Dangers of Public Wi-Fi - Windows network settings

In OS X: Navigate to System Preferences > Sharing to verify these boxes are unchecked. Top 3 Dangers of Public Wi-Fi - Mac network permission


Security Flaws in Websites You Visit

The last aspect of the Top 3 Dangers of Public Wi-Fi security we’ll discuss today is using HTTPS.

While navigating the web, some websites are secure such as your bank or credit card portals. The web page displays https://www. Instead of http://www.

The S indicates that internet data is secure and encrypted. You want an encrypted connection whenever possible, and there’s a tool that does exactly that!

HTTPS Everywhere is a browser tool that helps force web pages to be secure. While it doesn’t work on safari, all other browsers greatly benefit from its setup.

Simply go to your browser extensions page and search for HTTPS Everywhere and install it, the rest is all automatic. You can learn how to get and install it in our Browser Security guide.


Now that we’ve covered Top 3 Dangers of Public Wi-Fi, you have the tools and knowledge to use it more securely no matter where you are.

Don’t forget to check out our beginners guide on cyber security, its designed for users who don’t have a lot of tech experience but want to be secure while they are online. Better Online Habits Cyber Security Tutorial for Beginners





Matt Crosby

Matt Crosby

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