Public Wireless Security - The Dangers of Unsecured Wi-Fi Hotspots
These days, it seems that every public place and business offers wireless internet access. These wireless ‘hotspots’ can be found at airports, hotels, cafes, bars, restaurants and even Laundromats.
Whilst they are highly convenient, allowing you to ‘get connected’ wherever you may be, they also present a number of security risks. Therefore, precautions must be taken to help ensure your information stays protected.
Why You Shouldn’t Connect to Unsecured Networks? Say you are sitting in a coffee shop and decide you want to check your Facebook page and your email to kill some time. You scan the available networks and see one that’s open and unsecured. You connect and start surfing. Coffee and free Wi-Fi, what could be better, right? Wrong! A hacker is also found of coffee shops and is located within the range of the router you get connected to. He’s waiting for one or more people to connect to the network so he can start a man in the middle attack. Within a few minutes, he could gain access to all your passwords, including bank accounts, emails and anything else.
Here’s a really easy way to visualize this: Imagine you’re mailing a letter. You put that letter in your mailbox and then the mailman picks up the letter and delivers it to the addressee. A man in the middle attack is when an unauthorized person, not employed by the post office, intercepts the letter before the mailman arrives to pick it up. This person could read the letter and even make changes to its contents before they put it back into the mailbox.
This is exactly what happens in unsecured networks (only digitally). The hacker can get in and see your passwords, messages, and any other activity as it goes over the network to the Internet. As you can imagine, it could be horrible if the hacker got access to your bank accounts and email. It would be especially bad if you used the same password for everything!
Unfortunately, this type of scenarios is pretty common and can cause you a huge headache down the road.
So what are some ways you can prevent Wi-Fi Crime:
Harden Your Computer: Install adequate firewall software and ensure that it is configured securely to block all unauthorized access attempts. Ensure you have installed antivirus application with the latest security definitions and latest security updates and patches for all the software.
Protect your information: Encrypt all sensitive information stored on your device, so that it is inaccessible to anyone attempting unauthorized access. Disable all file shares that you may have on your system, preventing the sharing of your files with everyone connected to the network.
Disable Wireless Card and Connection: Ensure your wireless card is disabled or turned off when not in use. Set your laptop or another mobile wireless device to not “automatically connect to available networks.”
Use a Non-Administrator Account: Never connect to a wireless network with an administrative user account as far as possible. This will prevent anyone from obtaining administrator rights on your PC should they gain access.
Assess the need to connect wirelessly: Whilst it is tempting to connect, especially in places like airports where we all get bored, ask yourself whether you actually need to connect it or if you are just doing to pass the time. If you don’t need to, avoid the risk by not connecting. When faced with the options, wired or wireless connection options, no need to go wireless if you don’t have to.
Avoid Sending or Receiving Sensitive Information: Avoid sending or receiving sensitive information such as credit card, online banking or financial information over public wireless networks. If you must send or receive sensitive information, ensure the website is SSL encrypted by checking the locked padlock icon and ensuring the website address being with HTTPS (S=Secure)
Use VPN: Use VPN to connect to a public wireless network as it provides a secure, encrypted tunnel, ensuring all of the information you transfer or receive wirelessly is encrypted and therefore, protected.
Don’t leave devices unattended: Never leave your laptop or wireless device unattended, no matter how inconvenient it may be to pack up and take with you. Opportunist thieves are everywhere and they will take advantage.
Here’s to an incredible festive season for each of you! If you learn of new privacy issues, concerns or threats you think would make a good addition to Security Tip, please know it is okay to get in touch. Drop me a line or tell me your thoughts, will make it a topic of a future Security Tips.