Those of you who know me, know that my laptop and I are inseparable buddies. We work together, travel together and play together. My mobile lifestyle also means that I rely on Wi-Fi and hotspot connections quite a bit. In fact, nowadays, it’s customary for a lot of people to expect free Wi-Fi when they venture out, whether in cafes and coffee shops, restaurants, hotels and airports.
For the record, I never use any type of public Wi-Fi, no matter where I am. I always is my own phone “Personal Hotspot” feature whenever I need to be online from a remote location. I simply prefer to pay for the bandwidth I use rather than take avoidable risks by using a public (and free) connection.
But like a said, the majority of people simply rely on public Wi-Fi connections to go around with their daily browsing needs no matter where they are. What is most surprising to me is that apart from checking their emails and updating their social networks, one alarming trend that is continuing to rise is the number of people performing financial transactions, like online banking and shopping, using unsecured networks. I’ve seen this habit first hand many times at local coffee shops with people seating right next to me.
Although financial institutions and online merchants have worked doubly hard to protect the privacy and financial data of consumers, there are many unscrupulous individuals who prey on people who are unaware of the dangers of unsecured networks. Simply put, many people are trading the convenience of free Wi-Fi connections over their online security.
The best protection against hackers is knowing their modus operandi. Hackers rely primarily on two ways to attack hapless people connecting to public networks.
The first method of attack is called Evil Twin Attack. Here, hackers create Wi-Fi hotspots that have names similar to legitimate ones, like those you find at the local coffee shop, airport or hotel.
The other method of attack is called Man in the Middle Attack. Here, hackers try to send out stronger signals with the end goal of sandwiching those signals between the public and legitimate Internet connections.
Either way, the goal of the hackers is to get your unencrypted information that you use when you log in to your different online accounts, your credit card information, or even your security credentials at work.
If you must go online when you venture out, here are a few public Wi-Fi precautions that you can take.
- Whenever possible, avoid logging in or sending your personal information to unencrypted websites. Once you are finished, make sure to log out of your own account.
- It may be convenient to use the same usernames and passwords for all of your online accounts. However, this only makes your more vulnerable and makes it easier for the hackers to access your accounts.
- Use Web browsers that can alert you when you are attempting to visit fraudulent sites or when you are prompted to download malicious programs.
- Take greater control of your mobile device by disabling the feature of automatic log-ins to networks.
- If you regularly connect to public Wi-Fi spots, you may want to use a virtual private network or VPN which acts as a layer of protection between you and the Internet.
- Finally, and this applies not matter what type of connection you’re using… always be VERY vigilant when you log in to any of your secure accounts. You may not even notice a person behind you or somewhere in the distance recording your keystrokes and stealing your password right away. Hide your keystrokes when you type as much as you can.
These tips may mean extra work for you, but in exchange for these minor hassles, you will be able to protect yourself and your online information better.
If you have any additional tips or if you’ve suffered from your information being stolen online, I’d like to hear from you. Feel free to leave your comments below with your own experience.
Thank you for reading. Until next time, this is Manuel Gil del Real (MGR)