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Security & Privacy

Beware of “Evil Twins” on Public Wi-Fi

Your smartphone knows everything about you. As you read this article, your device is hard at work, tracking your location, monitoring what you shop, who you date, and the number of steps you take. It has access to your online banking accounts, social media passwords, and logs your calls and messages.

In many ways, a smartphone knows more about you than your friends and family. As Tim Cook, Apple CEO, once said, “there’s probably more information about you on your phone than there is in your house.”

We’ve come to rely on our phones for everything by giving them more and more information. They are windows into our personal and professional lives, so the need to protect them from fake criminal “Evil Twin” networks has never been greater. 

Protect Your Smartphone 

An evil twin attack is when a hacker creates a public Wi-Fi network that looks and operates alongside the legitimate one. These traps often appear in hotel lobbies, coffee shops, bars, and public transport hubs. 

Your phone is vulnerable if you log onto a fake Wi-Fi network as hackers can easily steal your passwords, photos, and banking details.  

Just like you wouldn’t give a stranger your PIN, protecting your phone with a virtual private network (VPN) is an essential security step. You may already shield your device with a hardback cover, or take out insurance in case it’s lost or stolen. 

While it’s sensible to guard against damage or loss, far too many people neglect their online security. Your passwords are portals to your banking and social media profiles, and they need protecting. Since public Wi-Fi is inherently weaker than your home network, using it without a VPN puts your security at risk. 

Beware of “Evil Twin” Networks 

One of the biggest threats on public Wi-Fi is when hackers position themselves between you and the connection point. Sometimes they create fake hotspots with a similar name to deceive you. 

Let’s say you want to use “Dunkin’ Donuts Wi-Fi”, and you mistakenly use the fraudulent evil twin network “Dunkin’ Donuts FREE Wi-Fi.” 

You think you’re connecting to Wi-Fi as normal, but your phone’s connection is being re-routed to the hacker’s network or rogue access point. Sometimes hackers combine this threat with a “Denial of Service” attack, which disables the authentic network, making their fake one the only one available. 

Once you’ve logged in, the hacker will have instant access to all your pre-stored login and password details, photos, and so on. 

How to Spot a Fake “Evil Twin” Network 

Since hackers will try to trick you with near-identical Wi-Fi names, it’s not always easy to spot fake networks. Make sure to look out for these tell-tale clues on public Wi-Fi.

  • No sign-in process

If you don’t have to sign into a branded portal or agree to the provider’s terms of service, it’s unlikely to be a legitimate Wi-Fi connection. 

  • No password required

Alarms bells should be ringing if no password is required. A safe network will always ask you for a password. Remember, a hacker will make it easy for you to log in. Too easy. 

  • Slow connection

If it’s slow connecting, then a hacker could be rerouting you to their rogue access point. 

What’s up with Public Wi-Fi?

Public Wi-Fi is not as safe as your home network because you don’t know who created it or who else is sharing the connection. Free Wi-Fi hotspots are commonly used when you’re on the move, especially in the following places: 

  • Restaurants, bars, cafes, and coffee shops
  • Airports, trains, subways, and bus stations
  • Hotels and hostels
  • Public parks 
  • Shopping centers
  • Tourist attractions

As you learn more about VPN and how it works, think about how it can keep your phone safe, especially on public Wi-Fi.

Defend Your Data with a VPN

With more ransomware attacks taking place than ever before, the best way to protect your phone is to be invisible online. You don’t want to be that one person who’s targeted by a hacker.

One of the fastest and easiest ways to encrypt your device is to use a virtual private network (VPN). By creating a secret, encrypted tunnel, and hiding your IP address, a VPN makes it extremely difficult for someone to hack you. 

What’s a VPN?

A VPN is a virtual private network that you can sign up for a small monthly fee. Once you’ve downloaded the software, it can be switched “on” whenever you use a smartphone, laptop, tablet, or gaming console. 

VPN software is your best possible defense against hackers as it will create a secure and encrypted “tunnel” between your smartphone and Wi-Fi connection. This tunnel means no one can hack your phone and steal your passwords.

It also gives you a temporary IP address and hides your real one. For example, if you live in Ohio, United States, and want to access UK websites, it will give you a British IP address, so you have more freedom online.

  • Virtual because you are connected to online remote servers  
  • Private because your Internet activity is encrypted and real IP address hidden
  • Network because you can access multiple secure servers in different countries

What’s an IP Address?

magnifying glass on IP address

From India to Antarctica and everywhere in between, your Internet Protocol (IP) address reveals your geographical location to everyone. It’s a series of numbers assigned to every tool using the Internet. When you enter a website into your browser, your device will search for its IP address and take you there. 

If you go on YouTube and read, “Sorry, this video isn’t available in your country,” that’s due to your IP address providing information on where you live. It’s this reason why you can’t access entertainment programs or live sports in different countries. 

With a VPN, you can hide your IP address and use a different one from another country. By disguising your location, it’s much easier to access websites from other places, which is especially popular with travelers looking to watch their favorite shows on vacation. 

Crucially, hiding your IP address also makes it far more difficult for a hacker to find you on public Wi-Fi.

Your IP Address is Watching You 

Governments can monitor your Internet usage through your IP address, with help from your Internet Service Provider (ISP). By tracking your web traffic, they know what sites you visit and how much time you spend there. 

Companies can block you from accessing their content as your IP address exposes your geographical location. 

On public Wi-Fi, it’s much easier for criminals to track you by monitoring the IP address everyone logs into. It’s important, therefore, to understand the risks involved with free Wi-Fi and why hiding your IP address can help protect your data.

Google Knows All Your Passwords 

mobile device with asterisks for passwords

Pre-storing log-in details are convenient but potentially harmful if a hacker breaks into your phone. If you have multiple apps installed with pre-saved passwords, then your accounts are easily accessible on public Wi-Fi if someone breaks into your phone. Since Google pre-stores most people’s passwords, a successful hacker will have free reign over your device.

In just one click, they can access your Facebook, Gmail, Amazon accounts, and much more. The average person has so many passwords now; it’s almost impossible to remember them all manually. 

If you have a VPN, then you’ll have peace of mind, especially on public Wi-Fi, as it will be far more difficult for hackers to access your accounts. 

How to Choose a VPN for Your Phone

Connecting to a VPN is easy, and once you’ve downloaded one, it will take you step-by-step through the installation process. If you use public Wi-Fi regularly, a VPN will help keep your private information safe. 

A VPN allows you to enjoy the benefits of a secure connection despite logging onto a public network. 

On mobile devices, you can use a VPN app. Here’s how to protect your phone: 

  • Download a VPN — the Apple App Store has VPN apps available for iPhone or iPad, while Google Play has them for Android. 
  • Install your VPN — After downloading, you will need to create an account and specify which region you’d like to browse from, and enter your payment details if you’re using a paid VPN.
  • Check for the VPN icon — You will find a key symbol at the top of your phone screen when your VPN app is running.

Take Back Control with a VPN

By downloading a VPN, you can prevent hackers from stealing your passwords and keep your IP address hidden. As we feed our phones more data about our everyday lives, the security case for using a VPN is overwhelming. 

Just like you wouldn’t leave your house without locking the door, you shouldn’t log on public Wi-Fi without a digital padlock. The greatest risk to our online security is complacency.

You never think it will happen to you. That’s until your credit card gets cloned, or personal photos appear on illicit websites. Unfortunately, “Evil Twin” violations occur every day, and they are often due to poor online security. 

With so much of our lives online, downloading a VPN is a no brainer. Just as you would panic if you left home without locking the back door, having the same approach to your phone will keep your accounts safe, hide your IP address, and give you peace of mind on public Wi-Fi.

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Daniel Agnew

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