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Internet service providers sometimes offer their own public WiFi networks. For example, Xfinity offers public WiFi hotspots all over the nation. These hotspots will typically require a user to authenticate with a username and password. Branded hotspots, like Xfinity WiFi are prime targets for malicious networks. They can even spoof the authentication page, making it seem like you logged in to a legitimate network. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to verify that these hotspots are legitimate.
I use Xfinity WiFi all the time, and feel it is a good service. It would be better if they added more security features. If you are a Comcast subscriber, you can login to their secure portal. If you buy an Xfinity WiFi pass, no such security is offered.
Even if the WiFi network is legitimate, most public hotspots are open and offer no security. A malicious user connected to the network can intercept sensitive data. Let’s look at how to find the hotspot with the best security. This might not be an option, as most public WiFi hotspots are open and don’t offer encryption or security.
Connect to A WiFi Hotspot with the Best Security
If you have the option of using a secure public hotspot, it’s your best bet. With encryption, other users on the WiFi hotspot won’t be able to access your data. A secure hotspot will require a password. In such cases, the proprietor of the business will usually provide the password. This also prevents non-paying customers from freeloading on their WiFi.
Tap on Settings > WiFi and look at the list of available networks. Networks with a lock icon are secure. You can tap on each network to check which type of security is offered. Some of the older methods of encryption are easy to crack on a laptop computer. Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) is an old WiFi encryption standard that is easily cracked. Unfortunately, it is still used because people have older WiFi routers. If you can only connect to WEP, consider this to be an unsecure connection. We’ll look at how you can ensure security on these networks later in the article.
WiFi Protected Access (WPA) is a much better standard for security. WPA2 is an updated version of this encryption technology. It uses 256-bit encryption, making it much harder to crack. If you have the option, connect to a WPA or, preferably, a WPA2 network. Unfortunately, WPA2 security can be cracked. It takes much more effort, but it can be done. Fortunately, there are other ways to stay safe and secure on WiFi hotspots.
Check Security Certificates on Websites
It’s not just public WiFi hotspots that are unsafe. When you visit a site or use an app that communicates over the Internet, your data hop from server to server. Anyone along this path can intercept this data using a packet sniffer, if it is unencrypted. Websites that handle sensitive data usually use Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) security. Encrypted websites display a lock icon on the address bar. This means that data exchanged between you and their server is done securely. (continue…)