How to use public Wi-Fi networks safely

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Sometimes the most dangerous roads are the best known ones, because with the passage of time your guard is let down and you are exposed to attacks by criminals, who never stop looking for new vulnerabilities. That's what happened to the Wi-Fi, especially public networks, which are often the gateway to hacker. The same features that make free Wi-Fi networks attractive to users also make them interesting for hackers: it is simply the possibility of connecting by bypassing a first authentication. Panda Security has compiled a list of popular attacks via public Wi-Fi networks.

The most common attacks via public Wi-Fi networks

Given the spread of public networks, hackers are now very easily able to steal data from smartphones, tablets or laptops when users are connected to this type of network.

But what are the most common attacks on public networks? Here are some of the main threats detected by Panda Security to which you are exposed in the event of a public Wi-Fi connection.

  • Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attack. Day-to-day communications over Wi-Fi can lead to a breach when a cybercriminal secretly intercepts and alters legitimate conversations.
  • Evil twin. Cybercriminals are maliciously using their access point to mimic a real Wi ‑ Fi network access point and a unique hardware address.
  • Incorrect configuration of the access point. Deploying access points without following Wi ‑ Fi security best practices can unintentionally lead to misconfigurations, which often pose a security risk.
  • Access point pseudo. There is nothing physically preventing cybercriminals from activating an external access point in your network and inviting unsuspecting victims to log in.
  • Incorrect and illegal use. Organizations offering guest Wi ‑ Fi networks risk hosting a wide range of illegal and potentially harmful communications. Adult-only or extremist content can be offensive to nearby users, and illegal downloads of protected media files can expose your organization to copyright lawsuits.
  • Spoofing the MAC address of the access point. Cybercriminals who make Wi ‑ Fi security breaches generally try to disguise their malicious access points as legitimate or known access points through MAC address spoofing.
  • Karma attack. Malicious access points listen for client probe requests for Wi ‑ Fi network names they have previously connected to, then broadcast those names by connecting victims to the malicious access point to steal data, credentials, and other sensitive information.
  • Violation of WPA / WPA2 encryption (KRACK). Through KRACK, streaming of data over WPA / WPA2 encrypted Wi-Fi networks, such as passwords and personal data, can be intercepted, decrypted and modified without the user's knowledge.

How to defend against Wi-Fi vulnerabilities

Hackers often have no interest in cracking secure devices and only focus on easy targets. This allows you to defend yourself even with little effort in complex public networks, but it is necessary to have more protection if you use shared networks of smaller environments.

Often following the detection of certain vulnerabilities, device and network manufacturers have released security updates that protect from many problems. Therefore, the first fundamental advice is to make sure that devices and operating systems are always up to date.

Second, given the nature of the aggregation and fragmentation attacks, here it is Panda Security's tips to protect your Wi-Fi connection:

  • Install a comprehensive cybersecurity program: good antimalware and antivirus is the best defense.
  • Use one VPN connection when connecting to unsecured networks.
  • Never enter personal data on websites that do not use the HTTPS protocol.
  • Most attacks include one phishing tactic, or counterfeiting information and deceiving the user in order to convince him to share his access data to an online account. It is important to stay informed to learn about ongoing phishing campaigns and the latest cybersecurity news.

Just like with threats, the most effective security measures are often the most common and underestimated ones. Following these very simple safety rules can save you time, money and a lot of hassle.

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