Stay safe – when public wifi stops being your friend

Facebook has killed both the leather bound photo album and the holiday slide show. It is hard not to be nostalgic for the first of these two things, but most people will not miss the latter. Especially not the excruciating details provided by a boring relative about their not-so-exotic trip to a 5-star holiday resort that happened to be sort of near a rainforest they never set foot in.

With Facebook and other social networks, posting photo updates about holidays for friends and family is now a real-time activity, made possible by the increasingly widespread availability of free public wifi networks.

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Internet access offered up gratis around the world at coffee shops, hotels, bookshops and even within the sanctity of McDonalds restaurants. In fact, the brand’s infamous golden arches are now recognised by more people around the world than the Christian Cross, as in almost every country and major city these bright beacons of processed hope shine 24/7, calling to the hungry, the tired, and the internet deprived.

The benefits of free public wifi extend further than the ability to easily communicate with friends and family while abroad (read: make everyone still stuck at their boring job jealous). Public wifi is handy for people that need to get work done while away from the office, for accessing online banking services not available via mobile apps and for paying bills, reading emails or accessing personal files stored in the cloud.

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However, while it seems great that you can access fast internet almost everywhere for free, there are actually hidden costs that come in forms of big often undisclosed security risks.

Unlike your wifi network at home or work, public wifi networks are not secured in the same way and thus do not offer the same level of safety. This does not mean these networks don’t have a password system, or firewall built into the router, but rather that you as an individual user don’t have control over who runs the network, how it is setup or who else can and is connected to the network.

The last point is perhaps the most important, as while you may trust McDonalds or Starbucks to not install any malicious software on their wifi router or any of their customers’ computers using the wifi network, the same cannot be said of the innocent looking nerd sitting next to you eating his 5th double cheeseburger while also discreetly stealing personal details and login details from everyone else in the restaurant that is using the ‘free’ public wifi network.

Hacking attacks like this are possible because when you are using the same wifi network as someone else they are able to access your computer through the wifi network. Computers do of course have some built in security features that attempt to limit the ability of unknown and unauthorised strangers to control or access content on your computer. However, while they may offer standard default settings, these vital security features and software typically require some more advanced knowledge and technical expertise to correctly configure and provide you with a truly secure system when using public wifi.

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Furthermore, even if that is done correctly these security systems inherently can never be as effective as simply not being connected, in any way at all, to a hacker’s computer, which will always be 100% secure even if you are sitting right next to them.

Think of it as a sort of internet abstinence. You can’t get pregnant if you don’t ever let anyone touch you, much in the same way that your computer can’t get hacked if it isn’t connected to a hacker’s computer via a wifi network.

To protect yourself and to keep people from accessing your private details and secure passwords you have two choices;

  • Never use any public wifi network; or
  • Protect your computer and passwords using the most secure means possible, which will make it almost impossible for a hacker to access your data.

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This second point is especially true in the limited time available while you are connected to a public wifi network to upload your holiday photos, as there will probably be many more less secure and more vulnerable computers for him to focus his criminal efforts on.

SaferPass Password Manager offers a simple way to safely secure all your passwords – as opposed to typing them in each time or storing them using your browser’s built in password manager. It makes the web browsing easier and use unique secure passwords, which can be generated using the app, without having the headache of trying to remember each one. Which, believe it or not, is almost impossible even for people with near photographic memories. 

SaferPass is not a complete security system that protects every aspect of your computer while using a public wifi network however it makes a great deal of work when protecting your devices from unwanted guests.

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Simply browse to your favourite websites, input your password or better still, generate a new one using the SaferPass browser extension, and then store it within the encrypted database of the password manager.

This simple easy to use browser extension ensures that even when using a public ‘free’ wifi network, on which you are the only non-hacker, your passwords and private personal details will remain secure.

In short, using SaferPass Password Manager on your next holiday means you will only share your photos, not your passwords.

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Image credits: Gareth Mitchell, Estella Sharlow, @wirelessgear, @jogjadigitalvalley, @admino