Dangers of Using Public Wi-Fi

John Knights —  February 7, 2014

What better place to catch unsuspecting people who are bored and want to go online than the airport? Next time you’re flying be cautious of the wireless network you choose to join on you mobile device because it could easily be an ad hoc network (phone to phone connection) or another trap set by a hacker. Often times a hacker will intercept information over an unsecured Wi-Fi network and acquire people’s passwords to social media or worst yet, their credentials used to access their bank account online. Think of unprotected Wi-Fi like a mailing a letter in a transparent envelope and placing it in an unsecure mailbox, you have to leave the information in it and wait for the mail carrier (website) to pick it up. If a hacker gets to the information before the website (mail carrier), he could view the contents and even tamper with it. The safest thing is to never input sensitive information on an unprotected Wi-Fi network.

If you need to check your bank account on a mobile device, use a 3G or 4G connection whenever possible as it is more secure. If you are on a laptop, connect using a Virtual Private Network, or VPN service to create a secure connection, which will then secure your information. (For Wentworth employees that require VPN access to the campus network when working remotely, please email our Information Security Office to find out more.), Always be cautious when in a public space, even when connecting to “secured” or encrypted WiFi hotspots as they may not employ the most up-to-date settings. At Wentworth, our LeopardSecure WiFi network utilizes strong encryption, so you can be sure that your communications are secure.

A few other things to consider when using public WiFi hotspots. First, make sure that your sharing settings are off. This will ensure that you are not broadcasting your computer to others on the same network, limiting your potential exposure. Secondly, be careful even when you’re on a secure Wi-Fi network when it comes to your personal information. Chrome’s Incognito and Mozilla’s Private Browsing modes will cover your tracks on your computer but they leave the data you share vulnerable. Many sites allow for secure connections using an encrypted channel to their web site, through HTTPS. The problem is that even though it is available, many sites use the unencrypted HTTP as a default to ensure connectivity. There is a tool that you can use with your browser named HTTPS Everywhere. HTTPS Everywhere is a browser plugin that solves this problem and secures your data. Stay encrypted while browsing by default on every website that allows it. This is available for Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Opera.

John Knights