Threats of Public WiFi Networks
With WiFi hotspots popping up seemingly everywhere, it’s obvious that our world is becoming increasingly reliant on internet access. This can be GREAT in several different ways, but some drawbacks may cause some to question the viability of even using these access points. From coffee shops to school campuses, access can be had nearly anywhere, but are you really sure that your information is properly protected? Or, better yet, can you even access many of the sites you’d like to visit?
Online censorship is a common practice in several nations, but many don’t realize that many WiFi networks in the United States or UK will also do their part to limit access to certain websites. Companies and schools will often limit online access in an effort to avoid acting as a portal to “inappropriate” content. Social media outlets, particular subjects, and non-work related sites are often considered unacceptable and subsequently blocked. Those wishing to access these sites will need to use a third party network to do so.
In addition to accessibility, several security concerns lurk for those using a public WiFi access point. When using such an unsecured network your traffic can be easily snooped by other people on the same network. This is called “data sniffing” and is an old school hacking technique.
However, in addition to the more seasoned hackers lurking at your local cofee shop, many data sniffing tools have been made available to the general public, free of cost.
“Firesheep”, for example, exposed many of the risks associated with public networks, and caused many users to seek out encryption technology. This simple tool can be used by anyone, even amateur hackers to gain access to your online sessions. For example someone using Firesheep on the same public network could easily gain access to your Facebook account, read your private messages and post on your behalf. Kind of scary if you think about it, right?
Another discomforting thought is that when browsing the web, all your traffic will go to your ISP. Most Internet Service Providers are required by law to keep logs for all visited sites for at least 6 months (this actually depends on local laws). Basically your ISP knows exactly what you do when online: what sites you visit, what messages you exchange with your friends etc.
However, the good news is that you can protect yourself from such threats with a real simple tool: the personal VPN service.
The emergence of Virtual Private Networks has changed the way that many look at public WiFi access. By encrypting an individual’s browsing session, many of the issues associated with the internet are circumvented. Users are able to access their VPN service through the public network, but once logged on, all browsing activity is encrypted, protecting one’s ability to browse sites that may be blocked without worry about who else may be lurking on the network. By getting your traffic encrypted your ISP can`t log what sites you visit any more, so your privacy will also be protected.
VPNs are often incredibly inexpensive, especially when considering their importance to online security in our increasingly connected world. Online access is imperative for most business tasks, staying in touch with family, friends, and associates, and completing most personal finance transactions. However, because of the increasing number of risks involved with public WiFi, those that wish to prevent cyber criminals from gaining access to personal information would be well-served to get their own VPN account.
The convenience and benefits of VPN services make them a must-have in today’s online age. With security risks seemingly around every corner, those that utilize such a service can browse with confidence and without censorship.