The technological revolution in cyberspace has integrated humanity with the internet and has rendered the latter inseparable. Envisioning a life without the internet is impossible, for almost every activity performed in the real world can be accomplished sitting behind the computer screen, from shopping to learning. The easy accessibility of the internet, especially in urban areas, has contributed much to this ‘Cyber revolution’; a stable internet connection is more of a necessity than a luxury. In order to meet this pervading demand, public establishments, namely restaurants, malls, airports, hotels, etc., offer free secure Wi-Fi services accessible to their customers and are often used as a tool to lure visitors.
The Union Cabinet is also making strides to secure public internet to a greater extent. In December 2020, it gave the nod to install public Wi-Fi hotspots across the country. The project was initially proposed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). The network will be referred to as ( PM-WANI ) Public Wi-Fi Access Network Interface and will operate with the help of Public Data Offices (PDOs) based on a similar structure as PCOs that provide landline services via payphones. The ambitious project intends to achieve last-mile connectivity, thereby providing a secure public network to remote regions of the nations.
With ever-increasing traffic on digital freeways and individuals’ sheer lack of proper cyber hygiene, the devices on public Wi-Fi are rendered more vulnerable, providing hackers with plenty of new toys to play with. The exact features that boast the desirability of public Wi-Fi for users serve the hackers. With no authentication mandate, any device is free to connect to the source forming a perfect window for hackers to extract crucial and sensitive information or infect the target device with a myriad of malware and viruses.
The most significant benefits of Public Wi-Fi are also its worst drawbacks. No authentication while establishing a network connection seems convenient but makes a perfect window for hackers to make their move and extract every bit of information from personal devices. However, these potential threats should not keep individuals from accessing public Wi-Fi. The potential threats can be avoided and neutralized if proper measures are taken. However, it is essential to correctly understand potential threats before applying suitable countermeasures.
Various threats Associated with Public Wi-Fi are
- Man in the middle attacks:- this type of attack allows a hacker to place himself between the point of connection and one’s device. Instead of sending information to the hotspot directly, it is sent through a hacker who has access to all the personal information.
- Wi-Fi Honeypots:- This is a common type of attack usually set up by attackers with Wi-Fi names identical to any public facility. The intent is to trick people into using the evil twin hotspot of the original network without arousing suspicion. These deceptive hotspots are known as honey pots.
- Identify theft:- unsecured Wi-Fi allows hackers to intercept and acquire personal data, pictures, login credentials, financial information, etc., which can be used for illicit purposes.
- Eavesdropping/ Snooping or packet sniffing: unsecured network allows cybercriminals to eavesdrop on the information shared or received through the same network. Special tools such as packet sniffers enable them to view private data in real-time.
- The Worm attacks: worms are a specific type of self-replicating malware that spreads all over computer networks by utilizing vulnerabilities of operating systems. Worms generally damage their host networks by consuming bandwidth and causing web servers to overload.
- Session Hijacking: in this type of attack, a hacker expropriates personal data from its victim’s device, including connection details of all the websites that one may have accessed while being connected to the network, such as banking credentials and personal data. These details are later used to hijack personal accounts.
Measures to tackle Cyber Threats
With the amplification of Wi-Fi to remote regions, illicit cyber crimes and data security have become a significant concern for all netizens, especially when devices are connected to open public networks. To tackle the potential threats associated with public Wi-Fi, plenty of measures can be taken to ensure a safe and healthy experience.
- Virtual Private Network (VPN): this service is used to hide your credentials such as I.P addresses online. VPN encrypts users’ personal information, rendering them anonymous; this anonymity enables users to send and receive data over a public unsecured network without any risk of exposure.
- Restricted sharing: it is always better to avoid and practice caution whenever there is a need to share the internet in public establishments, but in case of necessity or urgency, one should refrain from sharing personal information such as login credentials, passwords, etc. sharing internet with a trusted and limited number of people ensures better security.
- Security Barriers/Firewalls: a more traditional way of securing a network is by installing a well-configured firewall to filter all transmissions across the network.
Using Wi-Fi while commuting and in public spaces is necessary; however, we must ensure that adequate safety measures are in place to safeguard us from all the cyber illicit activities and malware attacks that our devices are prone to. Practicing caution and general awareness of the potential risks associated with accessible public networks and countermeasures is essential.