The short answer is: Yes. However, it’s not as easy as you might think. Hacking is a difficult skill to master, and it requires specific conditions before it can be performed. As such, if you take the necessary precautions, your data will remain secure.
I have been using computers and various forms of network access for over five years. As a result, I have my fair share of experiences regarding risky Wi-Fi connections and would like to share my expertise with you.
You probably landed on this page because you’re concerned about your computer’s security over a Wi-Fi connection. Your concern is justified, and I am here to share all the information you could possibly need about how certain Wi-Fi connections may put your personal computer at risk.
In this article, I will explain how Wi-Fi works and how a hacker can utilize that connection to breach your system.
How Does Wi-Fi Work?
The modern internet age has evolved drastically, making it a lot more convenient for you and me to browse our favorite websites. Wi-Fi technology is responsible for the convenience and ease of internet access we enjoy today.
It allows us to access the internet without the need for a physical connection to our routers. But how does Wi-Fi work exactly?
Wi-Fi is a family of wireless network protocols commonly used when establishing local area networks for devices, providing internet access. It allows nearby devices to exchange information via radio waves.
All of this is achieved with a handy piece of technology called a wireless router, and it is essential to understand how this router works for the coming concepts.
What is a Wireless Router?
A Wireless router operates more or less like your regular router. The only difference is that it doesn’t necessarily require a physical wired connection before accessing the internet.
It is a piece of technology built around network interface controllers, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet ports, System on a Chip, and various other combinations of networking technology to connect a device to the internet.
Also, it includes a wireless access point, a device that allows other Wi-Fi devices to connect to a wired network and share information over radio waves.
A significant distinction between wireless networks is whether they are public or private. This generally determines how safe or unsafe a network is to use.
Public vs. Private Networks
The major distinction between a public and a private network is access. Anyone can connect to a public network on which their device has a different address.
A private network usually falls under restricted access and requires permission from the host owner. The internet is an excellent example of a public network.
How Can My Device Be Hacked Over Wi-Fi?
Now that I have briefly explained interesting networking concepts, how do they relate to your safety over a Wi-Fi connection? Well, most Wi-Fi Connections have public access enabled. This means thousands of devices can connect to Wi-Fi.
Each of these devices has a unique Media Access Control (MAC) address that distinguishes them from other devices on the network.
In addition, the router itself also has its own MAC address, and it is essential to remember this when trying to understand some of the ways a hacker can get access to your device over a public network.
Hackers use the following common methods to gain access to your device over Wi-Fi.
Man In The Middle Attack
This is a standard method by which a hacker can get vital information from your device over a public network. As I stated before, the router controlling Wi-Fi traffic has a unique MAC address which is easy to obtain if you are connected to the network.
Man in the Middle attack occurs when the hacker changes his device’s MAC address to match the router’s address. All devices connected to a Wi-Fi network pass data through the router to the internet.
The Man in the Middle attack results in the attacker’s machine receiving data between other connected devices and the router. This means that your private information passes through their system and then to the router, giving them access to your device.
The hacker would need to connect to the router for this to happen. This is possible under one of the following conditions.
- If a password does not protect the router.
- If the router’s password is easy to guess.
- If the router’s password is common knowledge.
- If the router uses an outdated authentication protocol.
Observing the connected devices is an excellent way to tell if a router has been hacked. Take note of unknown connected devices.
Fake Wi-Fi Connections
This is another method by which a hacker can access your device. Have you ever been to a cafe or a library and noticed that your usual free Wi-Fi had developed an identical twin? This could be a fake Wi-Fi connection.
A fake Wi-Fi connection operates under the same principle as a Man in the Middle attack but with a different execution style. A hacker can create a hotspot that mimics a trusted Wi-Fi source in every way, right down to the name.
The point is to bait unsuspecting people into connecting to the fake Wi-Fi, giving hackers access to their devices. This method works best when set up next to a trusted and active Wi-Fi connection, such as your local library or favorite Starbucks.
There are many other methods by which a hacker can access your device over Wi-Fi, but dwelling on the problem will not provide a solution. Instead, it begs the question, how can you protect yourself against such malicious attacks?
How Can I Protect My Device from Hackers?
You can easily protect your device from network-based attacks using a VPN. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) emulates the same protocols as a private network and passes your network activity through a protected tunnel of code.
You can safely browse using your favorite Wi-Fi connections if you are using a VPN. However, make sure it is a trusted developer, and be willing to spend some money to ensure your network is adequately protected.
Here are some related questions or doubts you might have, I’ll briefly answer them below.
Is a free VPN enough to protect my device on a public network?
Generally, no. It depends on the features that come with the free version. To be safe, a premium VPN is the best choice for ensuring the safety of your device.
Can a hacker steal my personal information over Wi-Fi?
Yes. However, it depends on what you have stored on your device and the level of access the hacker gains. As such, I encourage you to be careful when using a public network.
Should I avoid public Wi-Fi?
Not necessarily. Free Wi-Fi can come in handy when needed. Just make sure your device is secured with a premium VPN.
There you have it! A straightforward yet detailed guide on how you can protect your personal information from unruly hackers. Armed with this information and a premium VPN, you can rest easy knowing your data is safe.
I’d love to hear what you think of this article and if you gained a thing or two. So, feel free to leave feedback below.