Data Privacy Day is a good time to reassess the ways in which our desire to stay constantly connected is putting ourselves at risk.
Many of us can’t even leave the house without our smartphones. Mobile devices have become essential parts of how we interact with the world. And every day, millions of people connect to public WiFi networks or “hotspots,” using smartphones. We love the convenience of staying constantly connected at all times and in all places. From planes, trains and even automobiles to coffee shops, public parks and bookstores, public WiFi has become ubiquitous.
But just how safe is it? In fact, accessing public WiFi on any device is a lot less safe than you may realize.
Being a Hacker is Easier than You Think
Just how easy is it for hackers to steal information on smartphones and other mobile devices via public hotspots? You might think cybercriminals would need expensive equipment or expert programming skills to monitor WiFi traffic but they don’t. All they need is simple, free, readily available software and a desire to steal your data.
Whether you are on a laptop, smartphone or tablet, if you are using a public hotspot, you are at risk of a hacker intercepting your private data. All unsecure WiFi hotspots share one thing in common: they are completely unprotected and completely unsafe.
Many of us are now at least dimly aware of these risks. In a recent survey conducted by the Identity Theft Resource Center and Private WiFi, 79 percent of respondents said they believe using a free WiFi connection can lead to identity theft.
While we may be aware of the risks, many are not taking the necessary steps for using wireless networks safely.
The Problem with Smartphone Security
One of the problems with keeping your data safe on your smartphone is that many devices are set up to automatically connect to any nearby WiFi network. This feature is designed as a convenience but carries significant risk.
Usually, we don’t care which network we use when we are out and about. All we want is to have Internet access for our smartphones so we can keep in touch with friends and family, access social media and see the score of the game.
The problem is that if you are accessing a public hotspot, everything you do on your phone can easily be stolen, which includes social media logins, text messages and even credit card information if you’re buying something.
Additionally, the apps on your phone may automatically transmit data in the background as well, information you don’t even know about.
How to Protect Yourself
You should stop your smartphone from automatically connecting to public WiFi whenever it’s available to avoid connecting to a dodgy network.
Keep in mind too that hackers will set up their own hotspots in busy areas, so always ask someone who works at the location for the connection details to make sure you’re connecting to a legitimate network.
Another great way to protect yourself is to use a virtual private network (VPN) whenever you connect to a WiFi network on your mobile device. A VPN is software that secures and privatizes data across the Internet by building an “encrypted tunnel.” When you access the Internet, your data passes through this tunnel, which protects it from anyone who tries to intercept it.
A VPN service is the best protection you can use if you’re going to use public WiFi on your mobile phone.
So this year on Data Privacy Day, do the right thing for your mobile security by ensuring that everything you do on your smartphone is completely safe at all times. Remember, only you can protect yourself; no one’s going to do it for you.
About the Author
Jared Howe is PRIVATE WiFi‘s primary blog writer. He lives in Seattle with his wife, daughter and two naughty cats.