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Public Wi-Fi Security Vulnerabilities: The Free May Be Expensive

Published 28/03/2018 in Internet Security - 0 Comments
Free Wi-Fi Security Vulnerabilties

Access to the internet is no longer a concern in today’s world. In most environments – such as coffee shops, public transport vehicles, shopping malls, and even parks – free Wi-Fi is simply an additional service much like any other. But while the internet becomes a more easily accessible entity, there are numerous Wi-Fi security vulnerabilities that lay bare waiting for hackers to exploit.

Data security is one of the biggest factors when it comes to free Wi-Fi. Today, even small hand-held devices and wearable gadgets such as smartphones, smartwatches, and smart rings hold the power to collect, store, and process user data. This raises many red flags over how safe it is to connect to free internet. Naturally, Wi-Fi providers have the obligation to protect users and their data while they access the internet. However, this is sometimes not the case, and the security measures that may be set up are usually vulnerable to attacks and manipulation.

Internet users have a personal responsibility to protect their data and devices from unauthorized access, especially if they are using public internet connections. Knowing what Wi-Fi security vulnerabilities a user is prone to is a fundamental step towards deciding what steps to take to protect your privacy and secure your data.

Public Wi-Fi Security Vulnerabilities

The fact that Public Wi-Fi is free should make you cautious.

Public Wi-Fi Security Vulnerabilities

Encryption Protocols

Some networks tend to use weak encryption protocols to safeguard their user’s data. Public Wi-Fi is especially a culprit of weak internet protocols. This is compounded by the fact that it is usually free making it an easy target by a large group of threat actors. The Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP) which had been widely used before was found to be a weak encryption protocol. It was susceptible to attacks from various sources. Its replacement, Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), was also not as robust. Its successor, WPA2, is more secure and hard to penetrate. This is what most of our smartphones use today. However, it was also cracked by Belgian hackers a while ago.

After the successful hack on WPA2, no Wi-Fi network can be termed 100% secure. Therefore, depending on standard wireless encryption protocols for safety, they are simply not enough. Internet users need to take responsibility and ensure they secure their data and refrain from practices that will put their data in jeopardy. This applies not only for people who use Public WI-Fi but also for any user of the internet. However, for public Wi-Fi, greates care needs to be observed by internet users as they have numerous Wi-FI security vulnerabilities. As such accessing websites that may require sensitive or personally identifiable information using such networks is a bad idea. It can pose a great security risk to the user’s data.

Rogue Access Points

Access points are what allow individuals to connect to a network through wireless connections such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Rogue access points are those which have been installed in a network without authorization. They are not managed by the network administrator and are usually set up and run by hackers with malicious intent. Rogue access points can masquerade themselves as legitimate access points and fool users of a public network connection into thinking that they are connected to a legitimate wireless access point. When a user connects to a rogue AP, it permits the owner to collect data from their devices, monitor the connections they are making and to which sites, among many other possibilities. Hackers can use the private information acquired to perform malicious acts using a user’s details. They can also intercept and eavesdrop on connections or divert the messages sent to themselves.

Wi-FI Security vulnerabilities

People using free WiFi

Insufficient Network Monitoring

Network monitoring is the fundamental basis for a secure internet connection. Proper network monitoring helps to identify threats or anomalies within a network so they can be managed before becoming a critical threat. When it comes to public Wi-Fi, because it is free, networks are rarely monitored as strictly as they should if at all. Without proper networking monitoring, hackers are prone to carry out malicious acts within a network and go unnoticed. Every user of the public network is then exposed to these security threats which may range from downloading or accessing Malware to having their personal data stolen or collected.

Insufficient Network Performance

The performance of a network is dependent on the capacity in which the network has been set up to operate. If a network is receiving too many requests, the quality of connection may depreciate owing to throughput degradation. This may result in a lower data rate which causes the connection to be vulnerable. Free Wi-Fi tends to be of low bandwidth, and with many people connecting to it at any given time, the throughput is prone to degrade. When that happens, hackers get a chance to exploit the connection and cause major problems with user data because the security protocols are not functioning at maximum capacity.

Off-Hours Traffic

In most cases, except for 24-hour stores, a Wi-Fi connection is usually shut down when the provider has closed their business for the day. There are situations, however, where store owners will leave their Wi-Fi connection on even after business is closed. This gives hackers a chance to explore the network and identify loopholes which they could use to carry out malicious acts. Because the users and the owners are unaware of the breach, they become vulnerable to these attacks set up by the hacker.

Coffee House with Publi Wi-Fi

Unauthorized Data Rates

Access points operate on a range of data rates provided by the 802.11b standard. The defined range ensures that networks do not pick up data rates which are slower than the set standard. Public Wi-Fi may ignore this rule, thanks to poor monitoring, and accept data rates which are slower than the standard. These data rates are usually an indication of a security breach or an indication that someone is utilizing too much of the network’s resources, possibly to try to hack the network. If they go undetected, the hacker has a chance to get into the network and be a threat to user’s data security.

Public internet connections may be an essential tool for many people who work on the go, but the dangers it poses for these users can range from simple hacker fun games to drastic actions such as identity theft and financial drainage. While there may be some security measures taken to provide some security in these networks, they are usually not enough or properly configured. Regular firewalls and internet protocols are not enough to protect user data in a public environment. Users must take it upon themselves to ensure that their data is secured even when they are using public internet connections. By knowing the security vulnerabilities, they can decide on the best actions to take to secure their data.