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WARNING: Public Wi-Fi Is Not Your Friend

Written by Derek Smith, IT Security & Compliance Specialist

Public Wi-Fi is provided in coffee shops, libraries, airports, bars, restaurants and more. But as public Wi-Fi grows in popularity, so do concerns about its security. Hackers are getting more clever and creative when it comes to gaining someone’s personal information.

Norton Antivirus reported through public Wi-Fi in 2015:

  • Over 594 million people around the world were victims of cybercrime.
  • 21% of Americans had their email accounts hacked.
  • 12% of Americans had their financial data stolen after shopping online.

But what makes public Wi-Fi so dangerous is that even the most novice hacker can access your information with the right tools. 

Some of these tools include a program called Packet Sniffer. Packet Sniffer scans data that your computer sends to the Wi-Fi router. If these packets aren’t encrypted, (Encryption changes the data to make it unreadable) then hackers can easily get access to your login information and financial data.

Another popular technique is called Evil Twin. Evil Twin is a technique where hackers set up a false Wi-Fi router and give it a name similar to the Wi-Fi in the surrounding area to trick users to connect to it.  Once a user connects, the hacker can read all of the information that travels from your computer.

So if you find yourself often connecting to Public Wi-Fi, here are a few tips to avoid a breach of your personal information:

  1. Use a company-provided VPN. Many companies provide their employees with VPN access and this provides a secure encrypted connection to company resources but not to public websites.
  2. Check to see if the website URL says HTTPS. At the beginning of every IP address there is HTTP or HTTPS. HTTPS ensures you have a secure website connection, this mean that your data is encrypted to and from that website.
  3. Ensure that your cell phone Wi-Fi is turned off when not in use. Your cell phone could fall victim to the Evil Twin technique.
  4. Keep your software up to date. Software patches and windows updates help keep your machine secure from the most recent threats.
  5. Always be aware of suspicious people or behaviors. This is the hardest of the five because it can be anyone from any demographic.

IT criminals are taking it to the next level with accessing people’s information. But we have the tools to make it difficult for hackers to gain access to our personal information. It is up to all of us to stay vigilant when we decide to access public Wi-Fi. For the latest tips on securing your information please visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/online-security.

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