Most of us have been in this situation where we were in a cafe or a restaurant, and we were either forced or allured to use the public Wi-Fi provided by those businesses. And to be honest, it is okay, because we have no choice. Although, there has been a constant debate over the legitimacy of public Wi-Fi and its security, which raises another question, “Can public Wi-Fi see your messages?” Well, let’s try to decrypt this question.
Can public Wi-Fi see your messages?
No, public Wi-Fi won’t be able to see your messages because most of the messaging services that are available in the market have this super cool feature called “End-to-End Encryption” that encrypts each and every letter of your message in the form of code, and only decrypts it after reaching the receiving end.
Although, the security of the text messages that you send over your cellular data can be a little bit questionable, because; (a) It is sent over your mobile cellular towers, and (b) They are unencrypted.
However, there are some ways and means to fix this problem, but first of all, let us see in what ways a hacker can get access to your messages over public Wi-Fi.
What are the ways a hacker can access your messages over a public Wi-Fi?
So, if you are over public Wi-Fi, a hacker can easily access your messages by following methods:
- By installing a spyware or remote access software:
If someone wants to read your messages, first of all he will need physical one-time access to your mobile phone. After that, he needs to install remote access software solutions like Anydesk, TeamViewer, Zoho Assist, Remote PC, and gain successful remote access to your device.
If he is successful in doing so, he can easily view every move that you perform on your screen, in this case, your messages. But yes, he needs to maintain a successful internet connection throughout the process, regardless of the mode.
The second type of software that can help a hacker to read your messages is a “Keylogger.” Keylogger is a type of software as well as hardware that can be installed on a victim’s computer either through physical access, or remote access (email or download links). After a successful installation of Keylogger, a hacker can easily log your keystroke and monitor your every move including your messages.
- By decrypting messages:
Now, this is something that is not easy to achieve. Someone who wants to decrypt your messages needs to be professional and should have a powerful computer so that he can perform a brute force attack – an attack that allows a hacker to guess a series of passwords and passcodes, and here in this case, is the end-to-end encryption code.
Therefore, this type of method will be rarely used, unless and until you are on the hacker’s hit list.
- By mimicking the end-user:
By using this method, a hacker can launch the Man-in-the-Middle Attack and try to mimic the end-user i.e., the receiver, in order to get the decryption key.
Although, this method is also not as risky as it seems because many top-rated messaging services use some kind of strong endpoint authentication to prevent these kinds of attacks.
How to protect your text messages from being spied over public Wi-Fi?
After discussing the ways and means that are used by a hacker to spy on your text messages over public Wi-Fi, we shall now see how to take some hardcore precautionary measures, to save ourselves from this situation.
- Use a VPN service:
Public Wi-Fi’s are vulnerable, and therefore a VPN service is the strongest and most reliable solution one can use if he/she wants to keep their messages from getting leaked while on public Wi-Fi.
A VPN service helps a user to encrypt the internet connection by creating a tunnel between your computer and the internet, so that no one, not even a hacker, a spy agent, or your ISP can track your internet activity. Moreover, by using a VPN, a user can camouflage his/her real IP address with the ones that are provided by the VPN provider.
Therefore, make sure that you use a strong, trusted, and premium VPN connection, that will help to protect your data as well as messages, while on public Wi-Fi.
- Use end-to-end encryption-based messenger apps:
This is a no-brainer when a user wants to protect all his/her messages. End-to-end encryption-based messenger apps, provides you with ample of security so that no one can read your messages, except you and the sender.
Some examples of end-to-end encryption-based messenger apps are; WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, and iMessage.
Even some apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp provide end-to-end encryption expiration where the message expires after some time, leaving no log.
- Use a decentralized messaging app:
Using a decentralized app is another way to protect your messages while on public Wi-Fi. In simple words, a decentralized app has no dedicated server that stores your encrypted or non-encrypted messages. Thus, leaving no traces of your messages.
Some examples of decentralized apps are; ChatSecure, Briar, and Jami.
- Never leave your device unprotected:
Finally, never leave your device unprotected i.e., without a strong screen lock, so that no one can bypass your personal space, and read those personal messages.
Additionally, I recommend using fingerprint or password lock/unlock, as it is very much reliable and strong when compared to facial recognition or pattern lock.
There are times when we have personal conversations stored on our mobile phones, that we wish to keep private. Therefore, using public Wi-Fi might not be the best option if your main motive is privacy.
Although, if by any chance you want to use public Wi-Fi, then I strongly recommend using end-to-end encryption-based messenger apps, accompanied by a premium VPN service, which will help you to take control of your online privacy.