Zimbabweans and Zimbabwean businesses are becoming more and more connected to the world wide web. This is a good thing because increased connectivity opens us up even more to a world of opportunity. To add to that, from a business point of view, increased connectivity (more so broadband) can increase business process efficiency. But, that said, connectivity costs in Zimbabwe are comparatively higher than those in other countries in the region which makes access somewhat restrictive to the everyday Zimbabwean.
A number of establishments are as part of their service offering, providing customers with free WiFi. There may however be conditions of use which may include limits on the amount of data available. Or, you may be forced to view an advertisement such as is the case with using the free WiFi at News Cafe.
Having free access to the internet would have many jumping for joy, with the cost of having to view an advertisement or having limited data being a small price to pay. But, at the end of the day, the cost of connecting to a free WiFi connection may be much more than you bargained for.
The risks of using free public WiFi
When you connect to free WiFi, you don’t know how secure the network is and who else is connected to it. There may be a hacker lurking around who manages to position themselves between you and the WiFi network (Man-in-the-middle attack (MitM)) and gets access to all traffic, therefore ALL the information sent between you and the internet.
An even more dangerous method that hackers could use when you connect to free WiFi is malware. This is where they install infected software onto your device. The malware can potentially give attackers full access to your device and can take over everything that you do online.
Once a hacker has a hold of the information that they need, they are free to do the damage that they need to. They could potentially clear out your bank accounts and whatever other damage they may feel they need to inflict depending on what they find.
How to protect yourself
The best way to protect yourself on free WiFi is to not connect to a free network in the first place. If that for you is easier said than done, there a options to secure your information and device. One thing to note is that some publications may say that you are safe if accessing an HTTPS website but, with MitM, your data is still accessible to attackers.
The best way to protect yourself is with a virtual private network (VPN) where all information transferred between you and the internet is passed through a secure tunnel where data is encrypted and out of the reach of attackers. For a brief explanation on what a VPN is, take a look at the video below or read: Become anonymous online with a VPN & prevent the Zimbabwe government from spying on you.
There are a number of VPN options to choose from and some of them come free. But remember, there can be a cost attached to free. As a start, you can take a look at PureVPN, Hide.me (both offer free plans with limited features) and Norton WiFi Privacy as per the video above.
So, the next time you decide to connect to free WiFi connect, think about what it could really cost you if you don’t have security measures in place.