Staying Safe on Public WiFi

Public Wi-Fi is a most convenient resource and millions of mobile device users gratefully sign on when it is available.  Data plans are more costly in the U.S. than they should be and avoiding extra charges motivates users to dip into free service.  Not only that, your Skype, Go-To-Meeting, Dropbox, or Twitter app can use local hotspots to obtain internet access even if you do not sign on to unsecured public Wi-Fi.

File sharing and transfers are performed on several apps and that data can be intercepted.  Moreover, log-in credentials can be stolen, allowing cyber criminals to fully access your private accounts.  When using the internet as your phone service, eavesdropping on conversations can take place through the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP).  If you are using a mobile device that belongs to a business, signing on to unsecured Wi-Fi networks gives hackers are able to access the networks of large organizations and do significant, costly and embarrassingly public damage.

Mobile device users are obliged to pay attention to this commonly occurring risk and take steps to protect our valuable data.  No one wants to clean up the toxic mess of a data breach, whether it’s malware that infects our data files or compromises of your financial account passwords. Antivirus protections and firewalls are effective methods of cyber defense, but these are useless against hackers that hide on unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

DO:

  • Convert all password protected sites, such as your cloud-based email sign-in process, to two-step authentication.  For one email address, I receive an automated phone call that asks me to verify that I’m signing in, another sends me a unique code to punch in once I’ve verified via my mobile phone that I’m signing into the email system.
  • Use a VPN, virtual private network, that will encrypt all of your online activities.
  • Visit only https and avoid http websites when browsing on public Wi-Fi networks.
  • Purchase an unlimited data plan for your mobile phone, which for that device anyway, limits the need for free, unsecured Wi-Fi that makes you vulnerable.
  • Consider being especially strict and shutting off the automatic Wi-Fi network search feature from the settings app on your phone or tablet.

DON’T

  • Use your credit card to shop online or access your financial institution for automatic deposits, fund transfers, or any other banking business while using free Wi-Fi.
  • Connect to the hotspot of an unknown individual when searching for available public Wi-Fi.  That hotspot may belong to a cyber criminal who is waiting to do you harm.
  • Enable your device to automatically join networks that offer internet access.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

 

Before You Use That Free Wi-Fi…

Thank goodness for free Wi-Fi sites.  I’m sure you find them convenient and sometimes even necessary.  I’m happy to be able to duck into a library or nice coffee shop that displays a free Wi-Fi sign in the window and get some work done while between appointments.  It’s all good,  but like with so many good things,  there can be a downside to free hotspots.   Perils may lurk in the in the Wi-Fi shadows and we are advised to think a minute before we click and connect.

Information transmitted on an inadequately secured network can be intercepted by some nefarious someone who can use readily available software and equipment.   If that’s not scary enough,  hackers have been known to create pirate Wi-Fi sites that appear to be legitimate,  to trick the trusting into connecting and giving the bad guys access to whatever is done online.  

 Yet despite the risks,  it is possible to take advantage of public Wi-Fi,  but taking precautions to protect your data is strongly advised.

I.      Know your hotspot

Hotels are hotspots that typically require a password and offer free Wi-Fi only to registered guests,  thus making hotel Wi-Fi very secure.   Neighborhood coffee shops  and the public library may not be so secure.  You can sometimes check the level of security if there is a terms of service page to read before you connect  (a la Starbucks). 

According to the industry group Wi-Fi Alliance,  only use hot-spots that provide security technology known as W-Fi Protected Access 2  (WPA2),  which offers more security than the earlier systems WPA and Wired Equivalent Privacy  (WEP).   Look for this info on the terms of service page before you decide to transmit any sensitive data that hackers may seek.  The ultimate security precaution is to refrain from doing any online banking or credit card transactions on public Wi-Fi.

II.    Encrypt the data

On the other hand,   basically all websites that handle sensitive info,  such as banks,  brokerage houses and e-commerce sites,  use encryption technology known as Secure Sockets Layer  (SSL) that scrambles any data that is entered.   You’ll know that SSL is in effect when the web address starts with  “https”.   Several email and social media sites,  notably Gmail,  Hotmail and Facebook,  use SSL to keep private communication safe from eavesdroppers.  Facebook,  however,  requires that users activate the SSL.   To do so,  go first to Account Settings,   click Security,  then enable Secure Browsing.

III.   Virtual Private Network

Virtual Private Network  (VPN)  software is a must for those who regularly transmit sensitive data over public Wi-Fi networks.  VPN software creates an  “encrypted tunnel”  through which your data travels as it sails through the world wide web.  Many large corporations have their own SSL networks in place for their employees,  but Freelancers and other small business operators can get some cover as well.  

Anonymizer Universal  http://anonymizer.com  is compatible with Windows,  Mac,  iPad and iPhone and costs $80.00/year.  PrivateWiFi  http://privatewifi.com  supports Windows and Mac and is available at $10/month or annually at $85.00.   VPN4ALL  http://vpn4all.com  is compatible with Windows,  Windows Mobile,  Mac,  Android,  iPad and iPhone for $6.00 – $20.00/month,  depending on the operating system you run and the amount of data you’ll transmit.

OpenVPN Technologies actually developed the open-source technology that is used by several software companies that offer SSL.  Private Tunnel  http://privatetunnel.com is their VPN service and it caters specifically to small business.  Private Tunnel supports Windows and Mac and costs $12.00 – $50.00/year,  depending on the amount of data transmitted.

Finally,  it’s possible to avoid Wi-Fi networks altogether and connect to the internet through a wireless carrier.   For this totally mobile service you will likely pay $50.00 – $60.00 /month.  Wireless carriers use encryption when transferring data.  For your mobile device you’ll probably need a large or unlimited GB plan.  Laptops will require a special device that plugs into a port like a flash drive.

Thanks for reading,

Kim