Here in the heart of winter, dangerous ice storms have left millions without power or internet access. Tens of thousands are still trying to navigate outages in Oregon. Millions are dealing with the cold and nowhere to go in Texas.
While the authorities deal with the mess, individuals are taking control in whatever way they can. Some people are driving dozens of miles to find a warm place to stay. They tap into a hotel’s network to try and get a little work done. Others are hanging outside coffee shops and business areas looking for wi-fi sources to log into.
But how secure is that? Are you putting your data at risk?
What makes wi-fi dangerous
Wi-fi, or a wireless access point, isn’t inherently dangerous. Where it moves up in risk level is when it’s unsecured - where it allows movement of data through airwaves without encryption or security protection.
Wi-fi hotspots exist all over. In general, they are considered safe, or secure, if they require a password to join. But even this can be at risk - have you ever walked into a coffee shop, and the password is available on a chalkboard for anyone to see? Have you joined at a hotel where a simple password is given freely to all who enter? How secure is that when hundreds may have access, and you have no idea who is sitting there monitoring those connections?
A Norton Cybersecurity Insights Report said it best: Free public wi-fi is a hacker’s playground for stealing personal information. With millions of people worldwide becoming victims every year, this isn’t something to be taken lightly.
A hotspot honeypot is an illegitimate wi-fi connection that can appear closely related to an authorized or secure hotspot. Have you ever stayed at a hotel, for example, and noticed several connections closely resembling the hotel’s name? They might go as far as building a similar logo. These are tricks hackers use to gain access to your personal data.
Any time you use a wi-fi network, take the time to speak with the staff or management to learn more about the connection. Be specific with your questions.
- What is the exact name of the network?
- What is the procedure for logging in?
- What else do I need to know to stay secure while using your network?
If you don’t feel comfortable with their answers, don’t risk being victimized on their networks. You’ll have even more problems when you return home. And that adds to your stress, especially if you’ve been sitting in a dark, cold home for days or even weeks on end.
What hackers look for
We tend to assume all hackers are in it for immediate malicious intent. Not so. While there are people that jump on public wi-fi for the sole purpose of intercepting personal information they can use for financial gain, others approach it for different reasons.
- Some infect devices with viruses laying the groundwork for future endeavors.
- Some steal your bandwidth and push the limit of usability.
- Some gain access and use your credentials to push illegal content. Ever received an email for unscrupulous behavior?
It’s hard to get into the mindset of people who sit there, waiting, watching.
Your best course of action
No matter where you go, before you trust any public wi-fi, check security first.
Set your browsing preferences to only access websites that use secure transmission protocols like SSL. These are sites that display the URL starting with https://.
Use virtual private network (VPN) services. A VPN imposes strong encryption measures on all data moving between your devices and the network. Even if a hacker does intercept the data, it will be difficult to decrypt the data they retrieve.
Finally, ensure everyone on your staff has a well-configured firewall in place on every device they use, in every location they work from. Education is critical - you can never over-educate your personnel on how to keep their data safe, whether working in the office, or hanging outside a coffee shop trying to perform a few tasks between storms.
For IT Strategy, Cloud Conversion, or Help Desk Services reach out to us at Silver Linings Technology 360-450-4759.