In today's technology-driven culture, it sometimes seems like it's hard to go 5 minutes without some form of internet access. You might be using it to read the news, stream music, answer work-related emails, pay your bills, or even to watch cute cat videos. Regardless of what you're doing online, most cellular data plans have data caps, and overages get expensive quickly. So, more and more businesses are offering free wireless internet access to entice customers. Walk into any coffee shop, and you'll surely see someone connected to the free WiFi on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop.
Unfortunately, using free WiFi in these public places is not without risk. Public wireless networks aren't usually known for their stellar security protocols, so they can be compromised by hackers and used to redirect sensitive data like usernames and passwords. Alternatively, hackers may set up their own free WiFi networks in places where no other options are available — that open network called “[Business Name] Free WiFi” may not be what it appears.
While the last “social hacking” point doesn't have to do with WiFi directly, it's something that is most likely to happen in places where free WiFi attracts customers with laptops. Never insert an unknown flash drive or memory card into your computer without taking precautions first (such as running a virtual machine).
We often roll our eyes at the concept of hackers stealing our information, or think it could never happen to me. However, this mindset is extremely irresponsible — as we've said before, security through obscurity is no security at all. Also, it's a well-known fact that malicious hackers are out there, and they may not look like the beanie-clad bad guy in this infographic.
So, rather than hope nothing bad happens to you, it's wise to take responsibility and be cautious about the dangers of free WiFi networks. A virtual private network (VPN) can help you avoid some of these threats.