Working on a laptop at a café, restaurant, shopping mall, public park, or even the airport with public WiFi is something we all do. But is it safe? While casually surfing the Internet on public WiFi is usually an acceptable risk, performing financial transactions like logging into your bank account, paying off your credit card, using PayPal, or even online shopping can be pretty risky.
Why is public WiFi unsafe?
Public WiFi is dangerous primarily because it employs weak security settings to attract more Internet users. Hackers can easily break into a connection with inadequate safety measures. They can then position themselves between you and the connection point, gaining access to the data you transmit during a financial transaction.
Hackers can also breach unsecured WiFi to infect users with malware. They could drop spyware on your computer to gain the login credentials to your bank accounts. Or they could use a rootkit to open a backdoor to your system to carry out more malicious attacks.
Cybercriminals can also create fake WiFi hotspots that appear legitimate to trick users into connecting to fraudulent networks. When a victim connects to a fake WiFi hotspot and tries to complete financial transactions, the threat actor may see their usernames, passwords, credit card data, and more.
Threat actors can also carry out man-in-the-middle attacks on public WiFi. After breaching a network, a hacker may intercept a conversation between you and someone else online and manipulate it for their gain. For example, they may modify chats between two business partners and convince one to share their credit data. Alternatively, they may share links that lead to fraudulent websites or carry malicious software.
A VPN Can Secure Public WiFi
It’s best practice to avoid doing business on unsecured connections. However, if you must, please use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to reduce your risk of hacking on a public WiFi network. A VPN uses an encrypted tunnel to make your data unreadable to an attacker, and it also masks your IP address to enhance your privacy. But what does a VPN do for you besides securing public WiFi?
Well, a VPN assigns a virtual IP address to you, and when you connect to a website with a virtual IP address, it sees the location of your VPN server instead of your own. Theoretically, a good VPN service can help you connect to ecommerce services like PayPal, even in countries where the service doesn’t work. For example, if you want to connect to your American PayPal account from Asia, you can use an American VPN server.
While top VPNs add a layer of security and privacy, you must avoid free VPNs because many of them snoop on users, use outdated security protocols, carry malware, or are run by untrustworthy organizations.
You can gain a few other benefits with a VPN too. An excellent VPN can help you bypass geo-blocks used by streaming services like Netflix to consume new content, and it can also help you take advantage of shopping deals not open to your country. Ultimately, though, a VPN is one of the best ways to use public WiFi safely.