Hidden Dangers of Using Open WiFi Networks on Your macOS and iOS Devices

You could open up your Mac laptop or iOS device in any city and instantly find several open Wi-Fi networks. Many of them, such as those found in libraries, universities, and restaurants, are free to use. Free Wi-Fi is convenient, but it is also risky. In this article we will talk about some dangers that come from using open public networks and the steps you can take to get keep your iOS device safe when using public networks.

Avoid the Danger of Fake Wi-Fi Networks

Fake Wi-Fi hotspots are usually a clone of a genuine hotspot that you would be inclined to trust. They may be found at a shopping mall, airport, or hotel. They could even be Wi-Fi networks of your neighbors.

Hackers create fake Wi-Fi networks by cloning the properties of a real wireless connection. This includes the SSID. This information is input in a new Wi-Fi access point. When you connect to the rogue network believing that it’s genuine, you open up your network traffic to eavesdroppers. This makes it possible for them to get your personal data.

line art of people in a park with wi-fi

When you connect to a fake hotspot, nefarious individuals are able to analyze the data packets you are sending and receiving. They can perform man-in-the-middle attacks. This allows them to divert the communications between you and the other party and manipulate the messages, allowing them to steal your identity. When these attacks are performed correctly, they are all but impossible to identify.

You can keep your Mac laptop or iOS device safe by remembering the following tips.

  1. Avoid Wi-Fi networks that contain the word “free.” Most businesses do not include the word free in the name of their hotspots anymore. For example, if you go to McDonalds, you will see that their hotspot is called McDonalds Wi-Fi, even though it is free. Cyber criminals put free in front of the name of the network to trick you into selecting their cloned networks.
  2. Avoid unencrypted Wi-Fi connections. Unencrypted Wi-Fi connections are risky. They lack security features that make them attractive to both casual Internet users and cyber criminals. Your Mac OS and iOS device will show a lock symbol indicating that a connection is encrypted. If you do not see this symbol, avoid the network.
  3. Stay away from networks that will accept any password. Some hackers will create fake wireless networks that have password protection. However, any password key you enter is accepted. You can protect yourself from this trap by intentionally entering the wrong password when connecting to a Wi-Fi network. If you are allowed access, disconnect immediately as this is likely a rogue network designed to steal your information.
  4. Be wary of suspiciously slow Wi-Fi connections. More than 500 million people use the Internet every day. If there are a lot of people using the same access point as you, your network speed may decrease. However, if you frequently use the Internet at a particular hotspot and you notice that it is drastically slower than usual, this could be an indication that a third party is monitoring your Internet traffic from a remote location. Using a VPN is always a good precautionary measure.

Do Not Automatically Connect to Previously Joined Networks

Your Mac and iOS device will by default remember the Wi-Fi networks you have previously connected to. This is a time saving tool, but it also comes with a lot of risk. If your Mac or iOS device has McDonalds Wi-Fi stored in its memory, there is nothing to prevent it from automatically joining a fake McDonalds network. Your Mac or iOS device will think that it is the same one it has stored in its memory. It is our recommendation that free Wi-Fi networks get deleted from your history so that your Mac or iOS device will not automatically join them next time they are in range.

android phone wi-fi preferences

To do this on your Mac OS:

  • Open “Network Preferences” using the airport icon found on the upper right-hand side of your screen.
  • Select “Advanced Settings” and make sure that Wi-Fi is highlighted on the panel on the left inside.
  • Choose the Wi-Fi you want to delete from “Preferred Networks” and then hit the minus button.
  • Finally, hit the okay and then apply button in the lower right-hand corner.

To do this on your iOS device:

  • Open the “Settings” app
  • Touch the Wi-Fi icon
  • Find the Wi-Fi network you want to forget and then touch the lowercase “i” next to it
  • Tap “Forget This Network”
  • Tap the icon showing confirmation that you want to forget the network

Use a VPN Service

One of the best ways to keep your Mac or iOS device safe when using open or public Wi-Fi is to use a VPN. There are several reputable VPN services that you can purchase, or you can come up with a homemade solution.

hoodie, headphones, computer, vpn

We recommend that you avoid free VPN services at all costs. This is because VPNs are expensive to operate. If the VPN service is not making money through the product they are selling, they are making money by selling your private information.

A VPN will create an encrypted tunnel from your Mac or iOS device to the network that you are connecting to. As a result, you can use social media, do online banking, send emails, and visit websites of your choice, knowing that your communications are not being monitored by you ISP or anyone on the network. Please make sure to read third-party reviews to see what data your ISP is sharing.

There are three benefits to using a VPN when connected to a public network.

  • Privacy: It encrypts the connection between your device and the VPN server. Since the data passes through a tunnel, no one can snoop on the information you are providing.
  • Hide Your IP Address: All of your traffic will appear to come from the IP address of the VPN as opposed to the open network you are using.
  • Your Data Is Secure: Even if you connect to a hacked or fake public Wi-Fi, the VPN server encrypts all the data sent to and from your device, so your data is safe.

When you use a public network, you are never alone. Digital security is important. It is up to you to understand of the risk that public Wi-Fi poses to your Mac and iOS device. Following the simple, easy, and inexpensive tips we have mentioned could save you from becoming a victim to a cyber-criminal.