Published January 3, 2020
As you wait in the airport lounge for your flight, you will be busy on your tablet, laptop or smartphone. But is airport WiFi safe to use?
Well, it is public WiFi. Therefore, no matter what safeguards put into place to secure it, there is always a risk. In fact, the higher the number of people who are sharing public WiFi, the more vulnerable it becomes. With the police lurking around, all the scanners and other security measures in a modern airport, you somehow think that even the WiFi is secure. It is not!
How Safe Is Airport Wifi? The Main Risks
Public WiFi is never safe, even if the owners have the best intentions. Public WiFi means the free WiFi connectivity offered at coffee shops, hotels, malls and even restaurants. Always be extra vigilant especially at airports.
There is no encryption for public WiFi
When you buy a router from the manufacturer, or from the shop, it will come with its encryption turned off by default. You are supposed to turn it back on when setting your network up. However, many people forget to do that.
When the encryption is turned on, then it means that the data exchanged between your device (computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone) and the web pages or apps that you will visit is coded. Only a person with the decoding key would be able to read that data.
Since all the devices that you use to access WiFi run on an operating system, it is possible for hackers to identify loopholes in the OS. They can then create code that they will inject into your device through the vulnerabilities in the operating system.
This code is called malware. It can be used to corrupt your data or even steal your identifiable information. Most malware attacks are carried out through public WiFi networks because of their poor or non-existent security.
Man-in-the-Middle Attacks (MitM)
MitM can cause a deplorable loss of privacy when using a public WiFi. In the search for information about how safe airport WiFi is, there is always a lot of information about this risk.
When data transfer happens between a computer and services, for example, a website, the Man-in-the-Middle kind of attack happens when there is a third party eavesdropping on the information exchange between one device to another. That important job email that you decide to send using airport WiFi before you board the plane may not be private after all.
This is almost similar to the Man-in-the-Middle situation. However, in this case, the cybercriminals use special software to snoop on WiFi. The snooper can see all the web pages that you have visited.
They can also see any identifiable information that you have filled anywhere online. It is important to avoid doing any electronic transactions using public WiFi. For example, this is not the time to buy that Korean air coupon code. Snoopers can also capture your login details and use such opportunities to steal your accounts. Wait to get to a safe network.
Is airport WiFi safe to use even when it has the airport’s name? Only when it is password-secured. However, check the name of that WiFi carefully. It could be a twin to the real WiFi. These incidences are more common than you think. They are set up deliberately to deceive users into using them instead of the genuine hotspots. For example, if you are in an airport XYZ, when you search for the available WiFi hotspots, you may find something like XZY WiFi.
You can connect to such a network thinking it is the genuine WiFi offered by the airport. This leaves you vulnerable to hacking since the malicious hotspot owners can access private conversations, emails and they can even see the web pages that you visit.
5 Tips for How to Use Airport WiFi Safely
How safe is airport WiFi and can you use it under any circumstances? The appropriate answer to this question is that you should take charge of your online safety. Do not rely on the WiFi provider to keep your safe because most of them do not care.
Is WiFi at airport safe? It can be if you take the following precautions:
- Use a VPN
A virtual private network encrypts all the data that your device exchanges with a server. This keeps you secure from all the risks that we have discussed here. You will have to pay a fee to access the premium features, but it will be well worth it.
If your travel is work-related, you can ask the company IT team to get you the best VPN. Get one that can allow you to use a few devices simultaneously, leaves no digital footprints and keeps no logs at all. There are different types of encryption protocols for VPNs, some very secure and some just so secure.
- Always logout of your accounts
Sign out of your accounts even on your devices if you were using them on the unsecured public WiFi. When you close the connection between your device and the website that you were using, that data exchange ceases immediately. That way, even if there was a snooper, they cannot continue snooping on your data anymore.
- Use secure websites only
HTTPS encryption has become the norm, but still many scammers may not use it. Please note that this is just a basic security measure. Check for a locked padlock at the top left corner of the browser before the web address of the site you are visiting. Since 2017, more than 70 percent of websites have acquired basic encryption.
You should still be careful about sharing identifiable information on HTTPS websites. With some of the SSL certificates offered free of charge, most website owners just go for this to save money. However, free encryption is better than no security at all.
- Avoid accessing sensitive websites on public WiFi
Do not access websites that hold your sensitive information on public WiFi. These include health websites or financial websites. For example, it would be a bad idea to access your PayPal account on open public WiFi. Do not make any transactions online when using such WiFi.
- Use a password-protected network
In the airport, you might find many WiFi networks. Some are free and open. In fact, the open ones warn you that information shared on that network may not be private. Always opt for password-secured networks. Granted, you might have to pay a small fee, but it will be worth it.
Is airport WiFi safe to use when you are traveling? The answer is no. However, you can still use it with some measure of safety. Be keen to logout of your accounts, use VPN if you can and never allow your devices to connect to open networks automatically. Always stay vigilant, as if a hacker is after you. You can never be too careful when using airport WiFi.