As service providers compete to lure customers into their joints by offering Public Wi-Fi, security experts are warning internet users’ to beware of the inherent security threats associated with such unsecured connections. If possible give public Wi-Fi a wide berth, otherwise use a VPN if you can’t avoid being a freeloader.
Do you always update your Facebook status, tweet or shop online every time there is a free Wi-Fi pop on your device? Beware of the freeloaders’ malwares and online fraudsters who sit in dark corners in coffee lounges or airport free Wi-Fi waiting to intercepts transaction and wipe away your banking login credentials.
“Free and unknown Wi-Fi connections can compromise your machine or mobile devices,” warned Peter Sparkes, Senior Director of Symantec’s Cyber Security Services while addressing cyber security conference in Sydney. “It is safer to use corporate Wi-Fi connections but any unknown connections can be a risk.”
Free public Wi-Fi networks are almost everywhere, from shopping malls, hotels, airports to train stations, implying that the risk of a cyber attack is just a connection away. Logging into these unsecured connections should be at your own peril keeping in mind that “everything you do is visible to a third-party stranger with access to that hot spot,” says Kevin Clark, a cyber-crime expert adding that chances of being hacked while using a public Wi-Fi “far exceeds the chances of your home being burglarized”.
Just to underscore the security threat posed by free unsecured Wi-Fi, Kaspersky Security firm unearthed a highly targeted Dark hotel malware residing in Wi-Fi networks of Asian hotels, targeting senior executives from top notch companies. Hundreds of CEO from Japan, South Korea and Indian had lost crucial company’s information to the Dark hotel malware masquerading as a legitimate App before it was discovered.
Apparently, the freeloader problem is wide spread in Asian countries especially India says Sparkes. Given the robust Indian smartphone market growing at an average of 84% yearly, new users are continually using free Wi-Fi for online transaction unaware of the inherent security risks. More worrisome is the large numbers malicious codes and malwares originating from the Indian market.
A survey by Symantec security firm ranked India as the Third highest source of malwares contributing over 5% to global malwares, in addition to the 1.45 billion spam Zombie injected to the Global cyberspace by Indians every day. The cost of cybercrime in India is over $4 billion yearly, with figures expected to rise significantly in 2015 given that attacks are becoming smarter and more sophisticated according to Symantec 2015 projections. In such a precarious environment, Indian is specifically the wrong place to use a public Wi-Fi.
The first step in reducing the risk of a cyber-attack while on a public Wi-Fi, is to verify the legitimacy of the connection. Most of often than not, users connect to hackers’ rogue access points blinded by the false sense of security that it’s a legitimate Wi-Fi network from their favorite joints. Such networks direct users to spoofed websites designed to steal login credentials.
“How often have you been in the airport (on your computer), and a dozen free Wi-Fi connections pop up?” asks Clark. “Make sure you’re connecting to a real network. If you’re in doubt, ask the proprietor.” A rogue site will continually prompt you to re-enter your login credentials or end up with a browser message saying the digital certificate is Invalid. In such a case Clark advises users to log off and shut down their PC.
As a rule of thumbs always choose a password protected Wi-Fi over a free unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Protected Wi-Fi networks have some level of encryption which makes them less vulnerable to cyber-attacks. “If you have to choose between secure and no secure, always choose the secure Wi-Fi network, even if you have to pay for it,” says Reza Curtmola, an associate professor of computer science at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Lastly, using a VPN (virtual Private network) may save your neck while using a public Wi-Fi. A VPN encrypts internet communication making it nearly impossible for hackers to decrypts. “If I was going to connect to anything on public Wi-Fi, I’d want a VPN,” says Clark adding that users should turn off the file sharing option when using public Wi-Fi.
Top/Featured Image: By Wi-Fi Alliance / Wikipedia (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wi-Fi_Logo.svg)