We love the idea of public WIFI. It is everywhere. It is free. It is easy to connect to. It is convenient. But, is it too good to be true? According to Harvard Business Journal, “over half of the adults in the U.S. have their personal information exposed to hackers each year.” And, 89% of all cyber attacks involve financial or espionage motives according to Verizon’s annual Data Breach Investigation Report.
Hackers love free WIFI
Those same reasons why we love public WIFI are also why hackers love it too. With public WIFI, hackers can get unfettered access to unsecure networks full of personal information they can then use to hack into your life and business. They position themselves between you and your connection point. They then see everything you are sending to the hotspot and pass it on. In this position, they will see anything you transmit over the WIFI network, your email, username and passwords, credit card information, business network credentials… Once they have access to this information they can use it at their leisure and access your systems. Hackers also use unsecure networks to distribute malware which can infiltrate your computer.
One mistake people make using public WIFI
According to USA Today, “If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Avoid doing anything you would not want anyone in the world to know on public WIFI. You may think you’re safe in that busy café or big-name hotel, but public WIFI is a major liability.” You never know when someone has spoofed a reputable brand’s WIFI network. USA Today’s Stephen Petrow was hacked on a plane, click here for his story. This could happen to anyone.
Jessica Edgerton, National Association of REALTORS Associate Counsel, warns REALTORS®, “Do not do business over free WIFI” in the NAR training “Wire fraud scams: how to protect your buyer clients”. There is just too much at risk in a real estate transaction to take a chance on an unsecure network.
Below are some steps to help safeguard yourself.
How to safeguard yourself and your business when using public WIFI
The vast majority of hackers are simply going after easy targets. Taking the following precautions should help to keep your information safe.
- Be aware
Now that you know that public WIFI is not secure – be cautious and remember that any device can be at risk. This includes your laptop, smartphone or tablet. Be suspicious of wireless networks, and refrain from connecting to unknown or unrecognized wireless access points.
- Use a VPN
Make sure to use your Virtual Private Network (VPN) that most businesses use for corporate email and Internet access through an unsecured connection, like public WIFI. This is your first line of defense when on public networks. If hackers do manage to get between you and your connection, the data will be heavily encrypted through the VPN and you will not be an easy target.
- Use SSL connections
When you are web browsing make sure you enable to “Always use HTTPS” option on websites you use frequently or that require you to enter credentials. Hackers are smart and if they catch a username and password they will try all of the variations knowing that it will more than likely lead to a password to your online banking, corporate network, or other accounts. Remember, you never want to enter your usernames and passwords in an unencrypted manner. This opens the door for hackers.
- Turn off sharing
When using the Internet on public WIFI, turn off your sharing in System Preferences or in your Control Panel. It is unlikely that you will want to share, so best to be safe. You can also let Windows do this for you by choosing the “Public” option when you first connect to the new network.
- Avoid using specific types of websites
In the event that you do use public WIFI, avoid going to sites where a cybercriminal could capture your information, i.e. online banking, social media sites, online shopping… If you have to access one of these sites, then use your mobile phone network versus the public WIFI to help protect yourself.
- Turn off WIFI when you are not using it
Even if you are note actively connected to a network, the your WIFI hardware is still transmitting data between any network within range. To be safe, when you are not on the Internet, turn your WIFI off. Work offline until you need to connect. Another benefit to this is you can help to save your battery life too.
- Protect yourself
Keep an Internet security solution running on your laptop to constantly scan for malware.
Secure your home wireless network
Having a home wireless network is awesome. You can work from anywhere in your home. It is easy, and becoming a standard in new smart homes. Make sure that you protect yourself at home too.
- Don’t use the default password.
Make sure to change from the default password and use a complex password. Click here for tips for creating strong passwords.
- Turn off SSID (Service Set Identifier) broadcasting.
This will keep your wireless device/network from announcing its presence to your neighbors and the world.
- Change your device’s SSID name.
Change the default SSID name of your device. It is easy for hackers to guess your manufacturer’s default SSID name of your device. Make is harder by changing the default SSID name. And, remember to pick a name that is not easily identified.
- Use encryption.
In your connection settings, enable encryption. WPA encryption was the best, but even WPA2 was recently cracked. For the time being there is no safe public WIFI. To protect yourself, you must use a VPN service if you want to hide unencrypted traffic.
- Protect yourself.
Make sure you have a great anti-malware product on all of your home computers and devices. When you set this up, remember to set it up to auto-renew so you do not go unprotected. Also, find a great IT resource to help you routinely review your computer and devices to ensure you are running optimally and that you do not have anything running in the background on your computer to compromise you or your network.
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