Beware the Wifi hotspot if you want to keep your data safe

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Wednesday April 9, 2014 at 10:00am
Free ‘WiFI’ here! We see the signs everywhere from McDonalds to restaurants, hotels and airport departure lounges. With some people addicted to having internet access on their laptop, tablet or smartphone the lure of free wi-fi is all too tempting. With so much of our lives conducted on these devices a wi-fi or mobile data connection is by many seen as essential, to check email, keep up on social media or even for internet banking. Others will choose to connect to these free wi-fi hotspots to save on data usage costs.

Maybe people perceive using wi-fi as less of a risk than using a traditional shared desktop PC with a wired connection, mostly seen in early years of Internet Cafes. But that’s really not the case. The security of mobile wifi hotspots is something you should think carefully about before logging on.

If you absolutely must use a wi-fi hotspot, then only use your device for web browsing where no account details are likeable to be sent over the airwaves. A common attack vector is ‘Man in the middle’ to quote wiki: ”The man-in-the-middle attack in cryptography and computer security is a form of active eavesdropping in which the attacker makes independent connections with the victims and relays messages between them, making them believe that they are talking directly to each other over a private connection, when in fact the entire conversation is controlled by the attacker. The attacker must be able to intercept all messages going between the two victims and inject new ones, which is straightforward in many circumstances (for example, an attacker within reception range of an unencrypted Wi-Fi wireless access point, can insert himself as a man-in-the-middle.”
In other words, big brother is watching and worse still he might be able to pretend to be you!

Checking emails, Facebook, Twitter, online shopping or internet banking could expose your user credentials or credit card information if intercepted by an attacker. Some Wi-Fi zone radio signals could even extend beyond their buildings boundaries making it even easier for an attacker to intercept traffic.

Personally I avoid using wi-fi hotspots, I use my own phone as a hotspot and keep an eye on my data usage per month (2GB is more than ample for my needs). If I really need to use a wi-fi hotspot due to weak mobile data signal then I will use ‘VPN’ (Virtual Private Network) software. In simple terms this ensures my data remains encrypted even when using a public network such as a wi-fi zone.

So next time you connect to a wi-fi zone, stop and think what sites or apps you are using. Think of the potential information that could be seen by others connected to the network, as not all fellow users might have good intentions!

Marcus Allen
Parker Management Consultants

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