The Problem With Public Wi-Fi Networks By Josh Blagden | JB - Mac Help | JBlagden

The Problem With Public Wi-Fi Networks   By Josh Blagden

Public Wi-Fi networks are nice because they’re convenient, free, and they allow you to surf the web, watch online videos, or download files without racking up data on your metered cellular data plan. 

However, there are a couple of problems with public Wi-Fi networks:

1. Wi-Fi is inherently insecure. Wi-Fi uses a hub-and-spoke topology, which means the traffic is not separated out in to different collision domains, which makes it more likely that someone will see your network traffic, and more importantly, your passwords and credit card numbers. The other issue is that with Wi-Fi, all data is sent as plaintext (unencrypted), which means it can be read by anyone on the network. While it’s true that Wi-Fi uses encryption, the encryption is the same for all users on the network. This means that anyone on the network can read the traffic of other users on the same network, which also means that they could get your passwords as well as any confidential information that you access on the Internet while on that network.

2. In addition to security, there’s also the issue of congestion. Public Wi-Fi networks are often congested, a problem which is only worsened if the owner of the network is paying for a slow Internet connection. Imagine sharing a 15 megabit/second Internet connection with 50 people - it would either be very slow or absolutely unusable, though the same could happen even with the fastest Internet connection. The speed of the Internet connection, the number of people who are connected to the hotspot, and what those people are doing on the network all play a part in the usability of the network.

Insecurity and congestion are the perils of using public Wi-Fi networks. Though, the order of importance depends on what you’re doing. If you’re doing online shopping, security is an issue. If you’re watching YouTube videos, congestion could be an issue. I’m not saying you have to keep away from public Wi-Fi networks, but you should be careful.

When it comes to public Wi-Fi networks, you should either:

1. Use a VPN when using public Wi-Fi networks

2. Avoid online shopping and banking while on public Wi-Fi networks

3. Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks altogether

© Joshua Blagden & Justin Barczak 2013-2015
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