The Year of WiFi Security: Protect Yourself in 2015 and Beyond

Jan 22, 2015 8:08am

ABI Research predicts that during the course of 2015 an astounding 7.1 million WiFi hotspots will be splattered across the globe, up from 4.2 million just two years ago. More and more people are using WiFi hotspots because the technology is often free to access and ubiquitous. In fact, according to a Harris Poll survey conducted on behalf of PRIVATE WiFi in March 2014, 66% of U.S. adults have used public WiFi. This means the majority of adults in America are relying on the technology to stay connected.

While constant connectivity has its benefits, the rise of mobile devices and the proliferation of WiFi networks can be a dangerous coupling. In fact, many WiFi hotspot users are unaware of the inherent risks that the technology poses—such as an increased risk of identity theft, hacking and compromised bank accounts.

How WiFi Hacks Happen
Public WiFi networks are almost always unencrypted, which means that anyone with cheap, easily available software can listen in and access everything being sent over the network. Below are the different kinds of tools hackers use to capture information sent over public WiFi:

  • Sniffers: Software sniffers allow hackers to intercept data sent between a web browser and web servers over the Internet. Hackers can capture any email, web search or file sent over an unsecured network.
  • Evil Twin: An evil twin is a rogue WiFi access point that appears to be legitimate but actually has been set up by a hacker to fool wireless users into connecting a laptop or mobile phone to a tainted hotspot. Once the victim connects to the evil twin, the hacker can view all Internet traffic sent over the victim’s computer.
  • Man-in-the-Middle Attacks: Any device that lies between a user and a network server can execute man-in-the-middle attacks, which intercept and modify data exchanged between the user’s computer and the server.
  • Sidejacking: Here an attacker uses a packet sniffer, a program that can intercept digital traffic, to steal a session cookie containing usernames and passwords from a variety of websites, such as Facebook or LinkedIn.

The attacks mentioned above can happen on any public WiFi network. And it is nearly impossible to determine which public WiFi networks are safe and which are dangerous, so it’s best to assume that anything users do on public WiFi can be seen by others. The onus is on WiFi users to protect themselves whenever they access public WiFi.

Protect Yourself When Using Wireless Networks
Fortunately, there are options for protecting yourself when using wireless networks.

Get savvy about WiFi hotspots by limiting the type of business you conduct on public WiFi networks if you do not have a way to secure them. Additionally, you can adjust the security settings on your devices to limit who can access your information.

Just as people already rely on antivirus and firewalls for security, a virtual private network (VPN) is another important tool that users can employ if they want security.  A VPN encrypts all the data going into and out of the consumer’s computer or mobile device. This technology completely blocks hackers from accessing data sent over WiFi networks, so users are always protected.

How a personal VPN worksUsing a personal VPN like PRIVATE WiFi allows WiFi users to ensure their privacy and security when connected to a public hotspot. Making all sensitive and personal information encrypted and safe from cybercriminals, a VPN prevents identity thefts, compromised accounts, and keeps private information from falling into the wrong hands.

For more details on WiFi trends, the security threats and how to stay protected this Data Privacy Day and beyond, read PRIVATE WiFi’s Whitepaper “The Hidden Dangers of Public WiFi.”

About the Author

Kent Lawson is the founder and CEO of Private Communications Corporation and creator of its flagship software PRIVATE WiFi. In 2010, after 12 years of retirement, Kent became interested in Internet privacy and security issues and the vulnerability of wireless communications in WiFi hotspots. He created Private Communications Corporation to protect consumers and corporations from privacy and security breaches on the Internet. PRIVATE WiFi, the company’s first product, protects individuals and business people while using laptops and other mobile devices at public WiFi hotspots.

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