What to know about free WiFi: How hackers can steal your data

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – In 2018, half a billion people traveling had their personal information compromised, many of them because of free Wifi.

“If you do not recognize the name of the access point or the hotspot you’re connecting to, do not connect to it,” said Ron Jones, a Harrisburg University cybersecurity professor.

Jones says if you log on to the wrong network, it’s extremely easy for criminals to access your data.

“Once you log onto it, they can download at any point onto your device, whether it’s your phone or your computer, some malicious software that can either monitor or do keylogging or what have you,” Jones said. “You don’t need to access a webpage for them to do this.”

There are simple steps you can take to keep your data safe.

“You should never set your phones or your devices to connect to the next available network because it may choose one that’s open like this,” Jones said.

Jones pulled up a list of nearby available WiFi and focused in on one called “Default.”

“This one looks very suspect,” Jones said. “You can accidentally connect to it. There’s no web security. There’s no nothing.”

When traveling, it’s also always smart to use a virtual private network, or VPN, if you have one.

“The VPN protects the transmission of your data and you definitely do want to use a VPN because it is secured or you can go over a secured HTTPS or SSL connection,” Jones said.

Visiting websites that have https in the address bar means your data is being encrypted for security, but it’s recommended to stay away from banking websites when using public hotspots.

Cyber criminals are always on the prowl, but they’re watching even more closely on holiday weekends, like July Fourth.

“More people are traveling. More people are trying to connect to hotspots and the malicious hotspots, while there may not be more of them, they know that when there’s a lot of them out there, they’ll get more people connecting to them,” Jones said.

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