How to shield your devices and browsing from cybercriminals

by Dominic Gilbert - February 06, 2020

by Dominic Gilbert - February 06, 2020

Cyber security expert

1 in 7 people in London had their data stolen or device hacked in the last 2 years.

Consider a public WiFi network — perhaps at an airport or a coffee shop or maybe at a conference or concert. Usually, you would connect without a second thought, right? You look around and choose the WiFi with the best signal or because the hotspot name is the same as the event you are attending. We’ve all done it. 

But can you even be sure the hotspot is legitimate? 

Could it be set up by a criminal who’s hunting for your personal data?  Unfortunately, the answer is yes, it could well be! 

In 2019, 700 million people were victims of cybercrime and 73% of the victims had their data stolen online first, and the numbers are expected to go up with 12-15% in 2020. 

For example, in London in the last 2 years (2018-2019), 1.7 million people were victims of cybercrime. That means that 1 out of 7 people in London had their data stolen or one of their devices was hacked into. Also, according to the research made by the British National Cyber Security Centre, 71% of the Londoners believe they will be a victim of cybercrime in the next two years.

Think about the passwords, banking details, credit card numbers, or any other private details you share every time you go online.

Just think about it…Have you ever emailed a copy of your passport or driving license to a company that wanted to verify your identity? Have you ever paid an invoice or bill from your smartphone or laptop whilst you were traveling? Have you ever downloaded a bank statement from your mobile? Or maybe connect to your Paypal account, or just logged into your Amazon account to check the status of an order on public WiFi? Every time you do this, you are at risk. 

And the worst-case scenario, imagine they are stealing your email logins. On how many websites and platforms are you using your personal email – Facebook, Paypal, Instagram, Amazon, maybe eBay?  Maybe you store some very personal pictures on your iCloud or Google Drive accounts or you just need to email some very important documents for work to one of your colleagues. What do you think is going to happen if a cybercriminal could get access to all of these, to your entire private data?!

Now, you probably understand why the danger of your data being intercepted by a hacker is a huge risk if you use a public Wifi or even a password-protected one without protection.

A hacker could get access to all of your accounts if they manage to steal your email logins, so this is a serious risk! If they hack your Amazon account for example and you have a credit card added there, what could stop them from using it and buy everything they wanted? They don’t even need to know your credit card details specifically, because the data is already there.

Are Municipal Hotspots Safer?

Many people might be wary of WiFi at their favourite haunts in town but feel more comfortable jumping on a connection provided by their city or their cable company. Website encryption aside, don’t those big, professionally managed networks have their own security measures in place?

Some do. But municipal and corporate WiFi networks are not all created equal, and consumers should do their homework before going online.

For example, New York City operates two WiFi networks: an open network that doesn’t offer any protection, forcing you to rely on website encryption or protection built into your device, and a “private network” that “encrypts” all of the traffic that passes through it.

Both are free to the public, and all that’s needed to register is an email address. The encrypted network also requires you to download a digital security key, and it currently can be accessed only from Apple mobile devices. But what about other devices like Android or laptops? And is the network actually encrypted as they say?

The city encourages anyone using the unsecured network to stick with encrypted websites and avoid any sensitive activities such as banking or credit card transactions. But why would they recommend that if the connection is encrypted and safe like they say?! The answer it’s obvious because it’s actually not safe and it’s not encrypted. And the same thing happens in London as well and in all big cities around the world.

Also, they don’t even mention that the entire data traffic that’s running through Municipal Hotspots is logged and analyzed in detail for national security reasons they say.

Let’s imagine for example that you are traveling by train from London to Manchester and you need to send a very confidential document to a colleague from work, or maybe you are a lawyer and again you need to check a very confidential document that you just received from one of your customers so you decide to use the train public WiFi. If you are lucky and there is no hacker around to intercept your unencrypted data, do you really want to let the government log and save your confidential documents on their servers and scan them for potential “dangerous content”?

Like I mentioned above, everything that’s running through Municipal WiFi hotspots is strongly monitored, logged and analyzed later for any potential threats to national security. You would probably say that you have nothing to hide so you don’t need to worry, but do you really like the idea for someone to take a look at your private data, including confidential documents or even personal photos?

What is the solution? Is there any way to protect ourselves online?

The solution is to encrypt your entire internet data and you can actually do that very easily with a Virtual Private Network.

With a VPN, all the data you send and receive to and from WiFi hotspots travels through an encrypted tunnel so that no one can get their hands on your private information. That means even if a cybercriminal does somehow manage to intercept your data, they won’t be able to decipher it. 

Even if you have an antivirus installed that’s running 24/7 on your device, you are not actually protected against fake or hacked WiFi networks. Once your private data is sent to the WiFi Hotspot, there is no way to tell if the data is safe or not, or if the WiFi network is hacked.  As you can see an antivirus is not capable of detecting if a WiFi network is real and in this case, the only remaining solution is to encrypt your data and make it impossible for a hacker or any other 3rd party to access and read your private data.

So yes,  this also means that your privacy is 100% protected whilst connected to a VPN. 

You can finally have a private life online and stay secure at the same time.  For example, did you know that your ISP (Internet Service Provider) is capable of logging and taking a look at your data and you can’t control it? Even your employer is able to spy on you and log everything you are doing online whilst connected to your WiFi from work and let’s not even talk about government agencies and the level of access they have to online data.

The only real solution to stay protected and enjoy 100% privacy is to encrypt your data and your IP address. This is exactly what a VPN can do for you.

Should I buy a VPN? How much is a VPN going to cost me?

I see a lot of people wondering why should they buy a premium VPN when there are so many free VPNs, proxies and other similar tools available online.

First of all, remember what I mentioned above. There is a reason why a lot of services like this are free. One of them is that they are actually not encrypted and the second and probably even more important is that most of the services and companies that offer a free VPN are logging and saving your entire online activity.

Even though they are offering VPNs and proxies for free, they are not losing money, trust me! Most of them are in fact getting rich by selling your online behavior data to media, advertising or data companies that are investing huge budgets in learning how to control and manipulate online masses.

A premium VPN service like VPNCity that has a zero-logging policy and military-grade encryption costs only $2-3/month. That’s literally less than 10 cents a day. Why on earth would you use a free VPN and risk your entire private data for only $2-3/mo?

If you are not convinced yet or you are not sure how a VPN works, you now have the chance to test it for free.