Technology has taken us to places we never imagined we could go, like the local coffee shop or book store. You no longer have to be in your home, sitting at a desk and staring at a dial up screen in order to access the internet. With a simple click of a button, you could be surfing the web on any computer, tablet or smartphone at work, in school, at your favorite café or while hanging out in Starbucks. It’s convenient, it’s free, but it also could be extremely dangerous.

While public Wi-Fi is almost everywhere and it seems almost everyone is using it, it is inherently unsecure. Anyone using it ought to do so with the premise that everything you do is visible to a third-party stranger with access to that hot spot.

The Danger in Hotspots

The game of hacking is a BIG business. In fact, the chances of you being hacked far exceeds the chances of your home being burglarized. On average, 556 million people are victims of cybercrime a year. That’s over 10.5 million victims a day and nearly 18 victims per second. Over 232.4 identities have been exposed thus far and over 600,000 Facebook accounts are compromised every day.

Users who connect to “free” Wi-Fi networks are at great risk of experiencing a channeling attack. Channeling is a common practice used by hackers and identity thieves to conduct man-in-the-middle attacks, with the objective of stealing user names, passwords, and other sensitive data transmitted by the user. The man-in-the-middle attack tricks a user into thinking that he or she is communicating with another user and vice versa.  This causes network traffic between the two computers to flow through the attacker’s system, which enables the attacker to inspect all the data that is sent between the victims, including user names, passwords, credit card numbers, and any other information of interest.

But it must take an extremely tech savvy person to execute something so complex, right? Wrong. The practice is actually disturbingly simple to carry out, with hacker websites readily available. These websites even provide instructions on how to perform such fraud. Hackers can easily trap passwords and other information without any of the user’s knowledge.

To make matters worse, the SSID’s (network names) of wireless networks you’ve joined before are saved on your system. Your computer will automatically log on to any network with that saved name. So if a hacker offers a name familiar to you, he’s just created a clear path to fraud.

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

Although hackers seem to be multiplying by the day, there are ways you can take precaution and still enjoy free hotspots.

First, make sure you always use a secure network that encrypts all of your data. This will make sure that your data is safe and scrambled as it travels. Meaning, if a hacker were to intercept your message, they would see nothing but scrambled letters.

In order to do this, when you’re going wireless on an unknown network, make sure it says “https” in the address bar of your web browser. This “s” on the end of the “http” indicates SSL or secure socket layer, which means that your data is encrypted between your computer and the website you’re surfing. This is an extra layer of security that will help keep your data safe. Encryption normally helps protect your network traffic from prying eyes; however, when you connect to an open Wi-Fi network like one at a coffee shop or airport, the network is generally unencrypted.

Also, some people might just use hotspots to just surf the web, utilize social media, and not do any shopping, banking, or anything that uses their financial information. While avoiding shopping and banking on a free Wi-Fi network is smart, it still doesn’t make you completely safe. Some experts even advise against checking Facebook or email accounts because too much information can be exposed to hackers that allows them to use programs that guess passwords, gain access to information and steal a person’s identity.

Protect Your Data

Wi-Fi has enabled us to use the internet almost every place we go. And while this opens up the doors to so many exciting opportunities, it could also close the doors to personal security. To prevent a major disaster from occurring, it’s important to backup your data. Consult with an IT Professional that can provide backup and data protection services designed for laptops, distributed servers and much, much more.

About Tony Zuffa

Tony Zuffa is the President and CEO of Element IT Solutions. He has been in the IT industry for over 20 years. He combines business requirements and technical architecture into a customized solution that aligns with the company vision.