The risks of public networks

We may not think about it, but public networks are one of the biggest cyber threats we face. Read more about it here.

03-10-2023 - 6 minute read. Posted in: tips.

The risks of public networks

Public networks play a crucial role in our daily lives in today's technological world. The attraction of free and readily available public Wi-Fi is obvious whether we're sitting at home, enjoying a cup of coffee at a nearby cafe, or lounging in the airport terminal.

Public networks can pose a serious cybersecurity threat though, which means there is a grave danger hidden beneath the convenience. We will examine the things that make public networks such a serious threat to our online security .

The biggest security threat

The lack of encryption on public networks is one of their most obvious problems. Public networks often lack these crucial safety measures, compared to your home network, which is usually protected by strong passwords and encryptions. Your data is typically delivered in plain text when you connect to a public Wi-Fi hotspot, making it extremely vulnerable to espionage by illicit parties.

Your unencrypted data transmissions can be easily intercepted by cybercriminals, who can then take critical information including:

  • Login credentials
  • Private messages
  • Financial information

A significant weakness in the safety of public networks is the absence of encryption, which exposes users to online dangers.

Six cybersecurity threats connected to public Wi-Fi

Below we’ll look at six of the most significant threats we face if we use public networks.

1. Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks are a well-known threat that comes with public networks. A MitM attack is when a cybercriminal monitors a victim’s interactions - whether with another person or with e.g. a website - and it’s usually without the victim's knowledge. By placing themselves in between the victim and the designated target, this hostile actor can watch, alter, or steal data as it travels through the Wi-Fi.

Since public networks lack solid safety mechanisms, they are an attractive target for MitM attacks. With the use of innocent-sounding names, cybercriminals can quickly create fake Wi-Fi hotspots that entice unwary users to connect. Once linked, the attacker can mimic trustworthy websites, inject malware, intercept data transmission, and steal user data without their victim's knowledge.

2. Malware Distribution

Additionally, public networks can act as a haven for the spreading of malware. Your device becomes vulnerable to numerous sorts of malware, such as viruses, ransomware, and spyware, when you connect to an unprotected network. Through malicious files or software updates, cybercriminals might take advantage of software vulnerabilities in your device or transfer malware onto it.

Malware can steal your personal data, violate your privacy, or make your device unusable once it has infected it. Since public Wi-Fi networks have vulnerabilities, malware can rapidly infiltrate devices, which evidently poses a serious cybersecurity threat.

3. Rogue Access Points

Unauthorized Wi-Fi hotspots called rogue access points imitate trustworthy networks. These fake access points are set up by cybercriminals in public areas to trick people into connecting to the fake hot spot. Users connect to these fraudulent networks under the impression that they are using a real and secure Wi-Fi hotspot.

Once linked, hackers can carry out an array of things, such as data theft and MitM attacks as we've described above. Users must be careful when connecting to public hotspots since these malicious access points are pretty difficult to spot and distinguish from legitimate ones.

4. Password Sniffing

Public networks are among the most common targets for password sniffing attacks. These cyberattacks involve the deployment of specialized software that hackers have made to steal login credentials as users enter them on the website. Cybercriminals can get your login and password information when you access your email, social media accounts, or do your online banking.

IT-criminals can access your accounts, steal sensitive data, and commit identity theft with the help of these stolen login credentials. Hackers can fairly easily conduct password sniffing given that public networks lack encryption and security.

5. Unsecured IoT Devices

Countless smart devices have been introduced into our homes and daily life thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT). The lack of strong security protections on many of these devices, however, makes them potential entry points for cybercriminals. Your unprotected IoT devices become vulnerable to attacks when you connect them to a public network.

Cybercriminals can compromise your entire ecosystem of connected devices by exploiting weaknesses in these devices to break into your home network. Unsecured Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such smart thermostats and security cameras, can act as entry points for online threats if they are connected to a public network.

6. Data Interception

Using public networks raises major security concerns about data interception. Unencrypted data streams can be intercepted by hackers as they get between your device and the internet server. In addition to login information, this interception can also lead to the theft of sensitive personal data like credit card and social security numbers.

Data that has been intercepted can be exploited for cyberextortion, financial fraud, identity theft, and other criminal activities. Data interception is a real cybersecurity threat since public networks are much more insecure than private networks.

Things you can do

Public networks could be convenient and accessible, but they also present major risks for our cybersecurity. They are a threat to our online security because of the lack of encryption, vulnerability to MitM attacks, the dispersal of malware, rogue access points, password sniffing, unprotected IoT devices, and data interception.

It's essential to be vigilant when connecting to public Wi-Fi in order to protect yourself against these risks. To encrypt your internet traffic, avoid accessing sensitive data, and ensure the reliability of the network you're connecting to.

Public networks might be practical, but it's recommended to stay on the side of caution and avoid them. Even while you're on the move, the extra effort to secure your online activity is worth it for your cybersecurity.

One of the best ways to secure your devices and accounts are with:

  • A VPN (Virtual Private Network)
  • MFA (Multi-factor authentication)
  • Strong passwords

If you implement these safety measures, you’re already standing stronger against the evolving cyberthreat.

Author Caroline Preisler

Caroline Preisler

Caroline is a copywriter here at Moxso beside her education. She is doing her Master's in English and specializes in translation and the psychology of language. Both fields deal with communication between people and how to create a common understanding - these elements are incorporated into the copywriting work she does here at Moxso.

View all posts by Caroline Preisler

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