If you are one of the many Americans who use an unsecured Wi-Fi network at home, then this blog is for you. You know who you are. At this very moment you are shifting uncomfortably in your seat thinking … how bad is it really?
And for all those readers who are disdainfully thinking that only a three-legged alien from Mars would be crazy enough to use an unsecured Wi-Fi network at home, let me ask you this … how many of us have been enticed to frequent certain establishments because they advertise ‘free Wi-Fi’? You know how it is. You’ve just dropped your child off at piano lessons, and with 45 minutes to kill you decide to visit your favorite café to curl up with a cup of java and use the ‘free Wi-Fi’ to update your Facebook page. All the while thinking you're safe as long as you don’t do any online banking on this Wi-Fi network.
Unfortunately, any semblance of "safe surfing" from any type unsecured Wi-Fi network is about to be debunked.
In a June 22, 2011 article published by SecurityWeek.com, titled “How Logging On From Starbucks Can Compromise Your Corporate Security”, author Ram Mohan describes three methods that hackers use to maliciously gather data from web enabled devices. While Ram focuses on the potential theft of corporate data, you can easily apply his message to understand all the ways in which your personal data may also be vulnerable to attacks when using an unsecured Wi-Fi network.
Safe Surfing Tips
In response, we’ve provided a few quick "safe surfing" tips:
- First and foremost, whenever possible, use only SECURE Wi-Fi networks. Always feel free to ask the establishment or hotspot owner if their Wi-Fi network is secure. If your device shows several Wi-Fi network names, ask the proprietor which one belongs to their establishment. Never use an unsecured Wi-Fi network when you don’t know who the owner is – this is a very common way for hackers to pick-up victims’ traffic!
- If your device is configured to auto-connect to Wi-Fi, consider enabling the notification feature in your Wi-Fi network settings. Once this is done, your device will prompt you prior to connecting to an unsecured/open Wi-Fi hotspot. This will keep you in control of which of the available networks your device is connecting to. You may also prohibit your device from automatically connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots. See your device’s user manual under Wi-Fi settings for instructions. Many user manuals may be found online.
- Whenever possible use the secure/encrypted version of whatever site you are surfing. When you see ‘https’ in the web address, the ‘s’ actually signifies ‘secure’. For sites where you already have accounts such as Gmail or Facebook, you can find out how to connect to the secure/encrypted version typically by reviewing the website’s privacy or security settings once you are logged in. These settings are usually found via a link on the front page of the site. Sometimes you have to poke around a bit. Not all sites have this option. Don’t forget to save your new settings!
- Whenever banking, ALWAYS verify that the web address begins with https and make sure your browser does not warn you that there is anything unusual about the certificate in use! If you see a warning or the login page is not https, call your bank immediately.
- Always explicitly ‘log out’ or ‘sign out’ from your favorite websites and wait for the page confirming that you are logged out to load. Simply clicking the “X” to close your Facebook page is not enough especially when using a public system as in a library or Internet café. (Internet cafés are very popular abroad).
- Be wary of downloads! Do not blindly download files or software from the Internet, as they may infect your computer with a variety of malware. When in doubt, contact the website from which you want to download – and ask whether or not the download is secure.
- If something seems too good to be true – it probably is. Be wary of all pop ups; and especially wary of ones that say “you’ve just won a grand prize” or “click here to retrieve your free gift”. Pop ups, like downloads, can carry malware to your computer! Make sure your browser has a pop-up blocker – and USE IT!
What questions do you have about unsecured Wi-Fi networks? Post your questions in the comments and we'll post an answer!
- Heather Smee