Let's say I connect to a local WiFi hotspot with a particularly bad security.

I am aware that a hacker may be able to perform the following:

  • Man-in-the-middle attack
  • Snoop on an unencrypted network traffic

But my question is: can a hacker distribute a virus to my device via the WiFi network?

And, if so, what can I do to protect myself?

  • 3
    In my opinion there is one main way to get malware on your machine in such a way: some APs/routers contain a functionality to automatically open a specific page when you connected to the network. You may have experienced this in hotels, where you'll be forwarded to the login page as soon as you try to open something in your browser. On this page any browser exploit your browser may be vulnerable against can be used. Also: if you have vulnerable applications that receive network traffic they can be fed the right data. This was e.g. the case with some laptop update managers, I think ASUS. – Draugr Aug 9 '16 at 14:31
  • A lot of modern devices will try to automatically detect whether they are connected to a captive portal or not and fire up a browser with the login page if they do. So, by pretending to be a captive portal, the AP can get the device to fire up a browser to a page under its control without interaction from the user, or at least with interaction that is inconspicuous ("Login to WiFi" doesn't sound scary, does it?) What's worse, at least on OSX, the dialog doesn't actually look like a browser (it's a custom dialog with an embedded Safari WebView), so the user might not be wary of browser vulns. – Jörg W Mittag Aug 9 '16 at 18:49

Depends on your OS and a lot of variables but in general yes.

Because the attacker may perform a man in the middle attack on a poorly designed update mechanism (not windows update) and or (again depending on your setup) abuse windows' local features like printer sharing as an attack vector.

As with everything there is no 100% solution but a very good start is using a VPN in order to fully encrypt all in/outgoing traffic and verify its integrity.

  • have you got any further reading on the topic? I am interested in the 3 main OS's iOS, Android, Windows. I'd imagine iOS and Android would be safer / harder to hack than a Windows machine which is by its nature quite liberal – user1 Aug 9 '16 at 14:12
  • This statement applies to all os. Hence iOS, Android and Windows applications can be flawed / download executables over unsecured connections. – Hupfauer Aug 9 '16 at 14:18

If your OS has no security problem and you have only applications with no security flaws in any of them, if you have no poorly configured active server program, if your system is strongly secured with a state of the art paranoidly configured firewall and if you have no dangerous activity like browsing on uncontrolled sites, an attacker should only be able to trace your unencrypted traffic.

In you have some sensitive data on your disk, you should be aware that everything that you receive from the network and that is not digitally signed with a trusted certificate can be forged by a Man In The Middle attack. That could include any software update, or even any data that could exploit a security flaw in a normally harmless application like an image displayer or as on-line game.

TL/DR: if your smartphone contains no more than you last holidays photos, no extra application and of course is not rooted, the risk is limited. If you have an ordinary PC with no special security configuration and are connected as an administrator, you'd better switch the WiFi off...


A Wi-Fi network gives you the freedom to work anywhere in the area. It can also become a security vulnerability, as a poorly protected Wi-Fi network can be an easy target for hackers and their malware. Viruses can use Wi-Fi to spread from computer to computer and in some cases leap between nearby networks to find new targets.

Wireless Network and Virus Connecting a device to a Wi-Fi network makes different than connecting it to the network with an Ethernet cable. Once connected, the device can see and interact with other devices (PCs and servers) on the network according to the network sharing policies. This means that any infected computer or device can launch attacks against other PCs or devices on the network, possibly infecting and compromising them. If a virus takes over a machine with full network privileges, it can quickly infect any device or PC connected to the network.

How can you protect yourself from the virus

  • Anti-Virus Protection : To protect your network from infected devices, you should maintain and regularly update your antivirus software. Protected computers can block attempts from compromised nodes on the network, and will prevent a further spread of malware through your device. In addition, if you regularly give out your network password to customers, consider changing it every few weeks in order to cut down on the number of users that may freely access your Wi-Fi signal.

  • Wireless Security : Protect your Wi-Fi network with WPA2 security as it will provide your network with the greatest level of protection against outside access.

  • Use Firewall : When connected to the internet, even a standalone PC or a network of interconnected computers make easy targets for malicious software & unscrupulous hackers. A firewall can offer the security that makes you less vulnerable and also protect your data from being compromised or your computers being taken hostage.


Simple answer is: yes

By adding a static ARP table, you can simply prevent ARP spoofs and use ARPwatch or IDS to detect attacks.

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