Many small business owners and entrepreneurs use public Wi-Fi on a daily basis to conduct business. While public Wi-Fi has many benefits, some dangers exist, too. If you or your employees use public Wi-Fi, even occasionally, you need to know how the bad guys can attack you.
What’s Public Wi-Fi?
Public Wi-Fi lets you connect to the internet for free with your computer or smartphone. Many coffee shops, restaurants, and public buildings have open Wi-Fi networks. Connecting to the internet through these networks is so simple and easy that most people don’t think twice before doing so.
Are There Risks With Public Wi-Fi?
Unfortunately, public Wi-Fi has risks — so many, in fact, that you should probably have company policies on cybersecurity and public Wi-Fi access to be on the safe side. Users face four common threats when connecting to public Wi-Fi: man-in-the-middle attacks, unencrypted networks, malware, and fake Wi-Fi networks.
What’s a Man-in-the-Middle Attack?
A common Wi-Fi threat is the man-in-the-middle attack. This is when hackers snoop on you while you browse the internet. In essence, the hacker gets between you and the Wi-Fi router, intercepting all the data that passes between the two.
Networks That Aren’t Encrypted
You may think encrypting data — that is, making it unreadable to outside parties — should be standard. But it’s not. Sometimes, Wi-Fi connection points don’t encrypt data. That means a hacker or even someone using the same Wi-Fi connection can grab your data. Since the data isn’t "in code," it’s easy to read and exploit.
Infecting Your Device With Malware
Malware is bad code that infects your computer with harmful software. Public Wi-Fi security is often low, so attackers can use the poor connection between your device and the Wi-Fi router to inject bad code onto your device. Once malware is on your computer or phone, it’s hard to delete or even detect. The damage that malware can cause is limited only by the attacker’s imagination.
Twin Networks and Pineapples
"Twin networks" and "pineapples" are terms for fake Wi-Fi networks. Basically, these are Wi-Fi connections that closely mimic legitimate ones. If you’re at a place called "Jim’s Cafe" and spot a network on the list titled "Jim’s Caffe," that’s a sign you’re looking at a fake network. The name looks similar, but the connection might be malicious. Once you’re connected to a bad network, hackers can take full control of your computer.
What to Do if Your Business Offers Free Wi-Fi
If you offer free Wi-Fi at your business location, you should put some precautions in place. First, post signs around the location explaining that the Wi-Fi is public, so security issues might be present. You should let customers know you can’t fully protect their data while they’re on public Wi-Fi. Also, you may want to instruct cashiers or client-facing employees to tell customers the Wi-Fi in your business is public and security can’t be guaranteed.
Public Wi-Fi gives small business owners, employees, and customers access the internet, which is a great convenience. But dangers come with it, and you can’t protect against all of them, so make sure you warn anyone who wants to connect to public Wi-Fi.