Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi – Here’s Why

by Lauren Ascroft on 08 Jun 2017

public Wi-Fi

In our latest blog post, Rockford IT’s 2nd Line Technician, Dale talks about how secure public Wi-Fi is and what you can do to make sure you don’t fall into any traps when surfing online in public places.

We have all heard of the risks whilst using unsecured ‘guest’ networks in coffee shops, hotels and supermarkets. Many of us assume that ‘being careful’ on unsecured wireless networks (i.e. Wi-Fi networks with no password) means don’t go on any dodgy sites or try and download copyrighted material.

However, even harmless Facebooking, shopping and internet banking can be intercepted by a device on the same network and can be used to make purchases, empty your bank account or arguably even worse, put a tasteless status update on your social media!

Some services (particularly email) still use unencrypted usernames and passwords, meaning that a ‘sniffer’ could capture your credentials and use that to send password reset links to your other accounts.

As an example, there are apps that look for and list any insecure logins to popular websites. Some don’t even need the passwords to those sites as it can exploit a vulnerability that allows the hijacker to open the site using your current session, giving them full access to your account in the process, even after you’ve disconnected from the wireless network. No password needed.

So what can you do to make sure you don’t fall prey to these digital scumbags?

  • If you’re web browsing, make sure you’re on websites that use HTTPS as opposed to HTTP. Many big corporation sites use HTTPS like Google, Apple and Microsoft, and of course Rockford.
  • Install a plugin for your browser called ‘HTTPS Everywhere’ – will force HTTPS while browsing..
  • Use a Password Manager to limit your exposure should a username/password be stolen.
  • Use 2 Factor Authentication wherever possible.
  • Avoid tasks involving money like online banking, shopping or bill paying until you’re home.
  • Encrypt all of your traffic by using a VPN.  WatchGuard SSL VPN can be configured to route all of your traffic across it therefore encrypting all of your online activity.
  • Treat public Wi-Fi access points as a convenience to look something up or read the news as opposed to working or anything that might include any of your personal details.

When I first learned of the risks, it was definitely an eye-opener as to how easily personal data can be accessed when you least expect it.

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