Public hot spots are as American as apple pie, right, so what could be bad about using them? It’s not stealing; it’s not harming anyone else; it’s not even indecent. Unfortunately, these are all false claims when it comes to free Wi-Fi because anybody can easily piggyback onto the network and retrieve some juicy data packets straight off of your computer.
In short, if you think unsecured hotspots are harmless, you are buying into one of the many security myths that can harm you and your software.
You’ve probably heard about the dangers of unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots, but what you might not know is just how easy it is to access your sensitive information from these public locations. Read on to find out what snoopers and hackers might be finding out about you the next time you log onto a public network (and what you can do to avoid it!)
Not so Hot Truths About Hotspots
When you sit down at a cafe and open your laptop, you are essentially inviting the world into the private domain of your computer life. While browsing or chatting innocently, your neighbors could be:
Pilfering your email password and login information. (As an side note, these aren’t as secure as you might think; hackers can guess your passwords easily, so keep them strong.)
Reading your private text messages (another reason to always use encryption when sending important messages).
Stealing bank details such as passwords and pin numbers.
Mooching FTP login credentials.
Cloning identities. By positioning himself between you and the actual hotspot, a hacker can have you feeding your information directly into his lap (top).
If you are currently logged into a session on web services like Gmail or LinkedIn, these same tactics can be applied to gain access to that session. That means someone could theoretically be on your Facebook account without having to login (since you’d already done that and essentially left the door open for hackers to waltz in).
Steps to Safer Surfing
Just how easy is it to access this information? According to Eric Geier from PCWorld, this type of simple hacking can be done in a matter of minutes on most public networks and is easier than contracting a virus on your computer.
So what can you do to stop these intrusive attacks on your privacy?
For one thing, always use encryption. Safe sites will have an “S” at the end of the http in the URL bar. Look for this symbol to ensure your session is secured.
Also, enable WPA or WPA2 on your network to keep snoopers out of your personal space.
Don’t forget to turn off sharing when you are using a public network.
This is an obvious one, but don’t use public networks unless you absolutely have to. If you’re just killing time or have 3G anyway, skip the unsecured hotspot and opt for the safer grounds.
Finally, using a VPN (virtual private network) can close the circuit and ensure your privacy and security.
Get the Protection You Need to Stay Safe
Now that you know how easy it is for someone to hack into your system by hightailing it onto one of the public networks, it’s time to take Internet security more seriously.