Joining an open or public Wi-Fi network can be tempting: It's convenient, you can use less data and you can get access to all your favorite apps and functions that require internet connectivity. But not all Wi-Fi networks are safe, and joining a bad one can be extremely dangerous, leaving your sensitive information vulnerable to hackers.
A Fraud Watch Network survey, reported on by AARP, discovered that roughly 40% of consumers use free Wi-Fi at least once a month. The survey, which polled 800 adults, also found that one-third of those who used public Wi-Fi in the past six months made a credit card purchase on a public network, and 37% banked online. What's more: 70% said they checked their email and social media profiles.
Open Wi-Fi is generally unencrypted.
The biggest problem with public Wi-Fi networks is that they are not encrypted. This means the information you transmit (passwords, for example) while connected to an open Wi-Fi network can be seen by anyone who is looking to snoop around.
Malware is a risk.
An infected device connected to the same network can contaminate your device as well. Malware poses a threat, as it can provide a hacker with access to all the information on a device, according to Digital Trends.
You could be using a honeypot network.
Creating a fake Wi-Fi network is simple and hard to detect. Fox News reports that a hacker just needs to put up a router and give it a relevant name — using the name of a hotel or coffee shop within proximity, for example. Once a user connects to such a network, called a honeypot network, the hacker can pass on viruses or lead users to malicious websites.
Online banking on an open network can compromise finances.
An online poll of 1,025 adults by cybersecurity company Symantec found that 22% of those surveyed accessed banking and financial information using a public Wi-Fi network, CNBC reported. Managing finances online over an unsecured network is especially dangerous since sensitive information can be leaked and accounts can be compromised.
Here's how to protect yourself:
As a rule of thumb, it's best to avoid joining open or public Wi-Fi networks. Should someone need to connect to an unsecured network, they should abstain from using sites that require them to transmit personal information, such as online banking and social media accounts.