Watch that Wi-Fi!

|May 9, 2017 0
The urge to constantly stay connected and its perils

Ritesh Chopra

What’s the Wi-fi password? You will often find people or yourselves asking this question at public places – that demonstrates the undying want, we have, to stay connected.

Not surprising that the Internet user base in India is likely to cross 450 million by June 2017, internet connectivity is a necessity now. As mobile data comes in a subscription model, public Wi-fi has caught the attention of the consumers as it allows them to have access to high-speed internet for no or minimal cost. That coupled with the Government’s endeavor to enable connectivity through partnership with telcos and services provider, there are more Wi-Fi enabled public places than ever. And by now we all know that ‘open’ is not ‘secure’ and the secure means a ‘password’. Won’t hackers know that too?

Wi-Fi signals are just radio waves and when you connect to a public hotspot, anyone with a laptop and eavesdropping software—freely available on the Internet—can “tune in” to your connection and watch everything you do online. They can easily steal your user names, passwords, credit card numbers, and other confidential information when you check your webmail, Facebook, Twitter, and bank accounts. Make purchases online, and even sign in to your favorite websites.Thus, free Wi-fi is a risky business, before you know it, your details are gone!

Wi-Fi usage behavior

The Norton Cybersecurity Insights Report 2016 revealed that more than a fourth of Indians (27 per cent per cent) claim that they regularly use public Wi-Fi. Nearly 70 percent of Indians say public Wi-Fi is useful for checking emails, sending documents and logging into accounts on the go, of which 80 per cent are business travelers who agree. With public Wi-Fi available everywhere, what seems like a convenience can put you at a significant risk. About 49 per cent Indians believe they are likely to have their identity stolen by entering personal info using public Wi-Fi connections and only 45 per cent use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), free public Wi-Fi is a hacker’s playground for stealing personal information.

There are a few big problems with using a public Wi-Fi network.

Man-in-the-Middle Attack

In a sense, a man-in-the-middle attack (MITM) is like eavesdropping. Data is sent from point A (device) to point B (server/website), and an attacker can get in-between these transmissions. All a cybercriminal has to do is create a dummy Wi-Fi network that looks like the network that a user wants to join. Once the user connects to the network, it allows him to position himself between the user and the connection point. So instead of sending information directly from a device to the hotspot, the user is sending information to the bad guy.

A small oversight can allow injuries unexpectedImage courtesy freedigitalphotos

A small oversight can allow injuries unexpected

Essentially, this gives a hacker access to sniff out any information that passes between you and the websites you visit — details of browsing activities, account logins, and purchase transactions. Your sensitive information, such as passwords and financial data, are then vulnerable to identity theft.

Rogue Hotspots

Another risk of using free public Wi-Fi is that you may be connecting via a rogue hotspot. This is an open hotspot, usually with a name similar to that of a legitimate hotspot, which cybercriminals set up to lure people into connecting to their network. Once a victim connects to the rogue Wi-Fi hotspot, the host hacker can then intercept data and even use tools to inject malware into the connected devices.

Watch our for roguesImage courtesy of TAW4 at freedigitalphotos

Watch our for rogues

To avoid becoming one of millions of victims of cybercrime, here’s what you need to know about the risks of public Wi-Fi and how to stay safe online.

Security is often in your own hands

Security is often in your own hands

• Make sure you’re on a legitimate hotspot by checking with the host to confirm the network name and connection process.

• Never leave your laptop or handheld device unattended-not even for a moment.

• Don’t allow your wireless card to automatically join the nearest network. Instead, manually select the hotspot when you connect.

• Turn off file sharing when you’re using a hotspot, and try to minimize the amount of sensitive, personal data you store on your laptops and mobile devices. You can usually turn off file sharing from your operating system’s network settings menu.

• Don’t do your online banking or trading at a public hotspot. Save it for a more safe and controlled environment.

• Don’t surf websites you wouldn’t want a stranger to know you’re viewing.

• When you’re on a public hotspot, you have no idea what infections other connected computers might have, or whether there may be a hacker prowling the network.

Ensure privacy at all costsImage courtesy of smarnad at freedigitalphotos

Ensure privacy at all costs

• Make wise computing decisions. Always avoid using hotspots for any type of important communication or transaction.

(Ritesh Chopra is Country Manager – Consumer Business Unit at Symantec. Views expressed here are of the author and CyberMedia does not necessarily endorse them.)

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