Picture this: You’re out at a local restaurant for a quick lunch break and decide to access the restaurants free Wi-Fi connection with your laptop. There are a few wireless connections that contain the restaurant name so you select the second one on the list of available wireless connections. Once connected, you realize that you forgot your bank password so you open up a password spreadsheet and copy/paste the password into your banking site. Next, you make a banking transfer while you happily cross this off your daily to-do list. You also decide to multitask by logging into Facebook and check your company email. What did you just do?
- You may have joined a dummy unencrypted Wi-Fi network set up by a hacker.
- You just used an unencrypted connection to access a spreadsheet that contains all of your passwords.
- You logged into your work email from an unencrypted connection.
Since there are five people in the restaurant using this particular Wi-Fi connection, there are five dialogs being broadcast throughout the surrounding area. There could very well be a hacker within range using a wireless packet analyzer utility to glean information from all five dialogs. The hacker could easily create a fake Wi-Fi hot spot that looks legitimate. If you connect to the hackers Wi-Fi you will be directly linked to the hacker’s computer.
Here are nine simple steps that you can take to better secure a public Wi-Fi connection.
- Keep your operating system and software updated and patched.
- Use well known anti-virus software and keep the virus signatures updated.
- Run a good anti-malware program such as Malwarebytes on a regular basis.
- Be sure that your windows firewall is turned on.
- Always use strong passwords and use different passwords for each site that you frequent. Use a password manager such as LastPass.
- Turn off sharing and network discovery via control panel in the Network and Sharing Center (sharing and discovery) and turn everything off.
- Verify the SSID. Confirm with the business the SSID (name) of their Wi-Fi network.
- Do not pull up sensitive data that someone in a public setting could view.
- Do not perform any financial transactions while using public Wi-Fi
PCWorld recently rounded up a great list of free security and privacy utilities to shield your computer from malware, encrypt your hard drive and protect your data at Wi-Fi hotspots.