If data from a recent survey is anything to go by, about 50% of the people tend to choose a public WiFi instead of their own mobile data when they are outside and where ever it is available. While from a data standpoint it perhaps makes sense to save your phone data and use free WiFi instead, this particularly matters for those who are on pre-paid and limited data plans. However, most people are not aware of the dangers of a public network and the risks are even more because they do not know about switching some of the phone settings off.
As Daniel Markuson, a digital security expert at NordVPN, points out – “One of the most ‘dangerous’ settings we usually have on our phones is the auto-join function. This function helps to connect your phone to a network automatically after you first logged in to it. The auto-join function may save you a couple of seconds a day, but it also puts the security of your device in danger. And that is why disabling it is highly beneficial.”
Why and how does the auto-join function put your device at risk?
The problem with the auto-join setting on your smartphone is associated with its ability to connect to a public WiFi network without requiring the user’s permission. Public WiFi usually has a very low firewall and is not strong enough to block hackers. The weak security on these connections allows hackers to place themselves between the user and the WiFi connection. So by any chance, if you are using public WiFi and are entering bank account details or any other personal information on any site, it can easily be accessed by these hackers.
To understand the risks of this auto-join function better, it is important to know how it works. If the auto-join function is enabled on any smartphone, if a person manually connects to a network for the first time, the device will connect to this network automatically every time it is in range. The problem is that phones recognize WiFi by its SSID (wireless network name), and a hacker can set a WiFi network with the same SSID as the safe network we were connected to before.
A hacker’s WiFi with the same SSID as that of a secure network that you might have used before is often called “evil twin” WiFi. So even if a user normally avoids using public WiFi and only connects to secured networks, he or she can still unknowingly connect to an evil twin hotspot if the auto-join function is on.
“Let’s imagine on Monday, you went to your favorite cafe and manually connected to its WiFi network called ‘Starbucks WiFi’. You know that the network at this cafe is normally secured and you feel like you have nothing to worry about. But then, on Tuesday, a hacker can set up an evil twin network nearby with the same SSID (network name). And, when you come to grab your daily cup of coffee on Wednesday, you cannot be sure which network your device will automatically join,” Markuson explained.
How to protect your phone
Markuson recommends disabling the auto-join function to avoid connecting to an unprotected public network by accident. It is also recommended that you use mobile data while away from home instead of WiFi in an airport, bar, cafe, or any other public place. However, if the user still needs to connect to public Wi-Fi, here are some things they can do to be more secured:
– Use a VPN
A VPN encrypts users’ data and doesn’t allow third parties to intercept it. So, make sure you have a VPN installed on your devices if you often use WiFi outside of your home.
– Connect to secured WiFi
Choose public Wi-Fi that is secured by strong and sophisticated passwords.
– Don’t make any purchases or connect to social accounts using public WiFi
The best way to keep your credentials (passwords, credit card details, etc.) safe is to enter them only on a secure network.
– Enable your firewall
While a firewall is not that necessary over a secure connection, it is always a good idea to enable it while using public WiFi. This will provide substantial security from hackers.