Nowadays, there’s one thing we have come to expect from the places we eat, drink, shop and spend time – good Wi-Fi. It’s something that has become the norm – we don’t think about it. That is until it’s not there, or even worse, painfully slow…

In fact, it’s become such a normal part of our everyday lives that we’ve become complacent about it. We don’t realize (or care, in most cases) just how vulnerable we could actually be on a public Wi-Fi network.

But the truth is, we are extremely vulnerable every time we log onto a public Wi-Fi network on one of our devices.

And that’s why hackers love public Wi-Fi.

In this article we’re going to cover how to keep your iOS or Android phone protected against hackers whenever you’re using one of these networks.

What’s the problem with public Wi-Fi?

The main problem is that many places with public Wi-Fi don’t pay to have it setup professionally or don’t understand how to do it themselves. This is true for a lot of independent coffee shops and restaurants.

They simply plugged in the router a few years ago and then completely forgot about it – as long as customers don’t complain, what’s the harm, right? Some of these places don’t even use basic protection such as Wi-Fi passwords or encryption.

Another problem with Public Wi-Fi is that there’s no way for the average user to know if the open network is really what it claims to be.

What are the different ways hackers exploit public Wi-Fi?

Man-in-the-middle attacks

A Man-in-the-Middle Attack (MITM) is a form of cyber eavesdropping where a hacker compromises a Wi-Fi network and places themselves between your device and the Internet. This allows them to secretly relay and possibly alter the communications from your phone. This is potentially much easier for a hacker to execute on a public network – especially if there is no password to crack.

Because MITM attacks allow the hacker to see all network traffic to/from a victim’s device, it means they could spy on sensitive information including websites visited, emails, passwords and more. Luckily, some important web traffic (such as online banking) will be protected from this attack by the encryption that the website uses. But nonetheless, data from a MITM attack can still be very useful to a hacker.

In some cases, a hacker will even be able to bypass these protective measures, by creating fake versions of important websites – such as online banking, email accounts, etc. For example, the user might try to visit “www.mybank.com” but instead the hacker redirects them to “www.my-bank.mobi” which looks identical to the user and allows the hacker to collect everything they need to access the account.

On top of that, a hacker could also gain remote access to the entire contents of your device if they manage to install malicious software.

Fake hotspots

Another way that hackers can take advantage of public Wi-Fi is by creating spoof hotspots that look and act identical to the real one. The only difference is that the hacker has access to your data.

They do this by creating a hotspot and naming it the same as (or very similar to) the real one. For example, “John’s Coffee Shop Wi-Fi” would be the real network, whereas, “Jon’s Coffee Shop Wi-Fi” could be the fake one.

You can see how simple it would be to accidentally log into the wrong network – that’s why it’s a trick that you must be aware of.

How to stay protected

If you want to stay protected on public Wi-Fi, here’s a few things you should consider:

  1. Always think before you log onto a network. Is it the real network? Is there a password, or will you be redirected to a ‘login’ page? If not, then you could be logging onto, at best, an unsecure network – or at worst, a hacker’s fake hotspot.
  2. Don’t log into your most important services online when using a public network. This ensures that your important details aren’t compromised.
  3. Don’t download or open anything from a link, email or pop-up advert. This is common sense, mostly, but if you are on a fake network then clicking something like this could give a hacker access to your device.
  4. Don’t use them. This seems like a hassle, but if you’re serious about your privacy then you will probably want to avoid public networks altogether. It’s pretty much the only way to 100% guarantee that someone isn’t snooping on your data.
  5. Keep your device up to date. By ensuring that your iPhone or Android phone is updated to the latest firmware, you stand more of a chance of being protected against different exploits that a lot of hackers use.
  6. Use a VPN. Virtual Private Networks can help you to protect your data by encrypting it and putting a barrier between you and any would-be cyber-attackers.
  7. Use security software on your device. Whilst the likelihood of having your device hacked this way is low if you follow our advice, it’s still a good idea to install security software that can perform scans and checks on your device to ensure maximum protection.

Here at Certo, we’ve developed the most effective security software for both Android and iOS.

You can download our free Android app by clicking here. Once downloaded you can scan your device and ensure that it’s free from any spyware and is setup securely, as well as a range of custom-designed features to help you stay safe online.

If you’re on iOS, download our free app for iPhone and iPad here. It will check your device for security issues and guide you through how to setup your device for the most secure experience.