How Using Public WiFi Can Hurt Your Business (Big-Time)

If you’re like me, you probably sometimes like to run your online business outside of your office or home.

If your business is always on the go, such as the Socialfix web design agency, you might like a change of scenery or productivity in idle in-between moments. 

So, you go to coffee shops or work while waiting for your flight, a doctor’s appointment, and others.

To continue working online, you need an internet connection. You usually do that by connecting to free public WiFi networks in these places.

Public WiFi connections can be secured or unsecured. Many times, though, they’re not and can pose serious security risks for your business.

Even if you use robust ecommerce platforms or other systems such as powerful Content Management Software (CMS), but connect to public WiFi networks, you need to know the dangers involved. The security risks involved can result in asset loss, customer disloyalty, and more.

That said, here are the seven dangers of using public WiFi for your business.

1. You can connect to ad hoc networks.

Ad hoc networks are peer-to-peer systems connecting two computers directly. 

When you’re in an ad hoc mode, you can establish wireless connections directly to another device instead of a WiFi router or access point.

When you connect to a public WiFi hotspot, your devices will possibly detect other networks, including ad hoc ones. 

Not only can you experience WiFi connection problems (for Android users, for instance), but hackers also have a chance to connect directly with your device if they are within range.

2. You can enter rogue hotspots.

Frequently using public WiFi for your business is a telling sign you may want to consider your online security more seriously. 

One of the dangers of public WiFi is that you can enter rogue hotspots.

Rogue hotspots are open networks with labels that are similar to those of legitimate ones. Hackers set up rogue hotspots to entice and deceive you into entering them. 

For instance, they can take on the name “Free Public WiFi,” “Public Airport WiFi,” or the like.

They sound trustworthy, and the word “free” catches your attention. You decide to connect to this “free” network, wrongly thinking you’ve accessed the right one.

(Many business owners do this to make their diners, stores, or cafés stand out, and if you’re one of them, you may need to rethink that tactic by using a more official network name.)

However, the danger of entering this rogue hotspot is that the host hacker can begin to unleash malicious attacks or activities.

These include injecting malware, intercepting your conversations via emails and other communication channels and data transmission, identity, data, and asset theft, and more.

Hackers can also use the stolen information to carry out other attacks. For instance, they can snoop on your emails and recreate legitimate-looking messages and email subject lines to trick you into clicking links where you unknowingly give your personal details. 

3. Hackers can snoop and sniff.

When you’re using a public hotspot, you may be in danger of snooping and sniffing. Hackers can snoop and sniff out, so to speak, any sensitive data you’re giving out online.

In other words, they eavesdrop on your online activity. Hackers can even purchase specialized software kits and devices to let them eavesdrop on WiFi signals.

Such a tactic enables hackers to gain entry into the websites you visited, the information you provide online and observe everything else you’re doing on the Internet. 

Hackers can see details of your browsing activities, purchase transactions, system account log-ins, and more.

4. Your log-in credentials are susceptible.

Once you access unsafe public WiFi hotspots — specifically rogue, ad hoc, and unencrypted networks — your log-in credentials become susceptible.

Hackers can snoop and sniff or execute MITM attacks and harvest your usernames and passwords.

Cybercriminals can then use your log-in information directly to open your business accounts to platforms such as email providers and popular Human Resource (HR) software, commit identity theft and steal sensitive data.

They may also hack your company website, insert malicious code, or any other harmful components that can slow or shut it down.

As a store owner, keep in mind that no matter what 2020 web design trends you may apply if your site’s log-in and security is compromised, you can seriously hurt both your asset safety and profitability. 

5. Hackers execute man-in-the-middle attacks.

Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks are among the many malicious activities hackers can execute through rogue networks and generally unencrypted public hotspots.

When a computer connects to the Internet, it sends data to a website. If there is any cybersecurity loophole, hackers can hijack the communication or transmission.

They can then view, insert, and alter your messages, and even capture sensitive business, financial, or personal customer data. 

You may converse directly with a customer, but not realize that someone in the middle is now intercepting your messages. You may not even be receiving the replies intended by the sender.

MITM attacks expose what is supposedly a private transaction. 

If WiFi connections lack mutual authentication protocols at both ends, they are susceptible to MITM attacks. These protocols are meant to avert such attacks.

6. Hackers can distribute malware.

Cybercriminals can use unsecured public WiFi connections for malware distribution.

Malware can hop from one WiFi network to another rapidly due to the dense population of connected users.

If you have software vulnerabilities, you are in even greater danger of malware spread on public WiFi connections. 

Hackers can write codes targeting specific weaknesses in your operating system or software program, giving you potential problems more serious than why your content isn’t converting

They can slide some malware undetected, which can then infect your device and files and slow down your website.

Now, in case you’re conducting an SEO audit and you notice a slow loading speed despite optimizing your site objects, consider probing to confirm if this is due to malware.

Cybercriminals will not hesitate to attack unknowing and susceptible businesses, which is why you must establish robust defense measures.

These include updated anti-malware software and compliance with Cyber Essentials accreditation.

For one, Cyber Essentials helps compel your business to bolster your cybersecurity. It is like a management checklist of the crucial protective schemes you must employ, including malware protection.

Once you comply with the essentials, you can even request for certification and display a badge on your website. 

The badge assures your customers your website is safe and attracts them to continue shopping, purchasing, and transacting with your business.

7. You access unencrypted networks.

If you send information through an encrypted WiFi network, that data remains safe and private. For additional protection, it’s best to send confidential information to an encrypted site. 

You would recognize an encrypted site because it uses HTTPS and not HTTP, and has a padlock icon before the website’s URL, like this:

Public WiFi networks, though, are usually unencrypted. They don’t encrypt the data you send online. If they don’t require a WPA or WPA2 passphrase, they’re most likely unsafe, leaving activities such as subscribing to email newsletters and buying articles online vulnerable to hackers. 

Moreover, routers shipped from the factories are typically unencrypted by default. You must turn on the encryption before setting up the network. 

In the case of public WiFi hotspots, it may be hard to tell if an IT professional was the one who set them up and if they’re encrypted. 

When you enter an unencrypted public WiFi, your traffic is visible to everyone connected to that network.

They can view unencrypted websites and the pages you visit, the information you put in unencrypted online forms, and encrypted sites (although your activity there remains hidden).

Quick tips to reduce the risks of connecting to public Wi-Fi

While you can significantly reduce the dangers of public Wi-Fi by simply not connecting to a public network, you can’t guarantee 100% protection. 

Optimize your security measures, practices, and policies to keep your business-critical information safe on public networks with the following tips. 

  • Use a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate to convert your website into the more secure HTTPS. HTTPS encrypts (and decrypts) user page requests, including the pages returned by the web server. It helps protect communication over a computer network, including login credentials and personal information. 
  • Set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN encrypts your internet traffic in real-time and disguises your online identity. It helps secure your data from third-parties who want to steal your information and track your online activities. 
  • Enable firewalls.  Ensure you remote employees enable their devices’ firewalls at all times to add a layer of protection against cyber threats. 
  • Disable auto-connect features. Advise all your employees to turn off bluetooth discoverability and Wi-Fi auto-connect settings. Doing so help prevent hackers from gaining peer-to-peer access to your systems undetected.
  • Install antivirus software. Invest in anti-sniffing protection and anti-malware software to reduce the chances of hackers infecting your systems through a public network. It also helps to choose platforms, such as email marketing services, with their own security measures to ensure added layers of protection to your account and business-critical data.
  • Utilize mobile hotspots. Encourage your employees to use a mobile hotspot from their mobile carriers instead of connecting unencrypted Wi-Fi networks to minimize security risks. 

Bottomline

Hackers love public WiFi because of the resources they can steal from your business and other malicious threats they can release.

Using public WiFi may seem harmless, but it carries these dangers and more. What’s scary is that they won’t always be noticeable.

Remember, your business, customer relationships, and other assets are too valuable to expose them to public WiFi threats. So be vigilant when working and connecting online in public places.

Think this post was helpful? Do share this with your colleagues. Cheers!

Adam Hansen