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ibstubro's avatar

What is the danger of using public WiFi and how great is that danger?

Asked by ibstubro (18765points) August 21st, 2016

I’ve been using public WiFi, but I’ve heard that can be dangerous. Rather than sift through the glut of information on the internet, I thought I’d just ask here and maybe get some first hand experiences.

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16 Answers

elbanditoroso's avatar

Yes, it is somewhat dangerous in the sense that you don’t know if the person/company that is hosting the public wifi is ‘capturing’ your data flow and is stealing your data.

There are two issues:

1) for banking and financial transactions, they could catch your password and login, and then use them. Fortunately, this problem is much less prevalent today, because most reputable banking sites use HTTPS (the S meaning Secure) encoding, which encrypts your data on the PC, and decrypts it on their server. This isn’t 100% perfect; HTTPS has some vulnerabilities – but it’s pretty damned secure.

2) Confidentiality: Suppose you are on a web site looking up terms like “divorce” and “rat poison”. Those don’t have a financial effect, but do you really want the server operator (and potentially the NSA) to know what you’re searching? (Again, Google uses HTTPS, so that’s a positive, but not all web sites do.)

To be super secure, use a VPN. But that’s a couple $$ a month and may be overkill.

Bottom line, there is still some degree of risk on using public Wifi, but much less than before if you are using relatively modern browsers.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I never buy anything while on public wifi. I consider it public. And in certain countries, I watch what I write.

canidmajor's avatar

I happily use public wifi for public things. Things I wouldn’t discuss in public, I don’t have on public wifi.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

For extra safety, you can use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). You connect to the public wifi, then the VPN makes a “tunnel” through the internet that is opaque to the local network. All your traffic goes through there to the VPN server elsewhere which is communicating with whatever sites and services you’re using.

I used to use my home computer as a VPN server. Wherever I was on my phone, it worked like I was browsing from home.

PC Magazine – The Best VPN Services of 2016

The Best Free VPN Services of 2015

How to Create a VPN Server on Your Windows Computer Without Installing Any Software

ibstubro's avatar

Accessing the internet using WiFi on my smart phone, specifically.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

It’s like swimming in a public pool with dozens of other people who could be urinating or have hep. You are trusting that the admins who set up the network did it safely.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

Tunnelbear VPN
Mac, Windows, Android, & IOS
500MB per month free
Unlimited $7.99/month or $49.99/year

Pachy's avatar

I’ve come to believe the danger is high enough to warrant my recently deciding to avoid it as much as possible.

johnpowell's avatar

There was a firefox extension called Firesheep that allowed grabbing cookies from anybody on your wifi network on non HTTPS sites. Around a decade ago when it was released I gave it a try and in about 10 minutes it captured the cookie for my sister’s Facebook account and I was able to log in as her. We were just connected to the same wifi network and that was before Facebook went HTTPS. Now that would be doable but significantly more difficult.

But Fluther isn’t HTTPS so if I cared and we were connected to the same wifi somewhere I could totally grab your cookie and log in as you.

I use a droplet at digitalocean as a VPN. It is five bucks a month but works well. That way I know what the server logs instead of trusting someone else as a VPN provider. It takes around 30 minutes to set it all up.

imrainmaker's avatar

Avoid doing any sensitive transactions while on anything public…be it Wi-Fi or computer. You never know what’s waiting out there for ya..)

SmashTheState's avatar

It’s only marginally more risky than using a cable modem where anyone on your block can theoretically sniff your packets. It’s not that using public wifi is less technically secure, but that it’s more convenient for people who want to sniff packets to set up at a public wifi like a lion staking out a watering hole. In other words, you have an extra layer of security-through-obscurity at home. The thing about security-through-obscurity is that as soon as anyone actually wants to break it, they can, which is why it’s considered worse than useless by many security professionals: it creates a false sense of safety.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

It’s amazing what you can find out with wireshark

ibstubro's avatar

Anyone care to comment on SpeedVPN Free VPN Proxy?

johnpowell's avatar

No possible way for it to be free. They must be injecting ads.

See this:

https://blog.haschek.at/post/fd9bc

And yes, I know the difference between a VPN and a proxy with Squid. But the technique could be used on both.

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