You may have come across expert advice where it was suggested that using wireless networks, as can be found in airports and other public places, is a bad idea. Well if you have, the expert may be right. The reason is that these network types are regarded as unsecure. Basically, an unsecured network is one where you do not need to type in a password before you can gain access to it. All you need to do is to find the network with your device, and start browsing the web. Most Wi-Fi and Mi-Fi networks are secured these days.
Types of Wireless Network
There are two main kinds of wireless network that you can access.
- The first is the ad-hoc network
- The second is the usual access point networks.
With ad-hoc networks, devices are connected to one another while the traditional access point networks connect to a central router. If you connect any two devices together without using any kind of physical hardware, then you have set up an ad-hoc network. An access point network however, needs hardware to work properly.
So in essence, the free public network that can be found in most airports are normally ad-hoc networks, as you are connected to another computer any time you hook up. As soon as you are connected, your device is immediately setup to broadcast the wireless network signal to any device close to you, and potentially, your private data (if someone skilled nearby cares to take a look).
Reasons Unsecured Networks are a Risk
We’ve just seen one pretty major reason why a free unrestricted network is a bad idea. Here are a few more scenarios you should consider.
Let’s say you are out at your local coffee shop. To pass the time you get on the free network available to check your email and maybe spend a few minutes on twitter and Facebook. On the surface, this looks like an ideal way to enjoy your downtime, but it is not always so. Public places like these are where hackers sit waiting for the right time for them to initiate a middleman attack on unsuspecting victims. Some good hackers will be able to gain access to your passwords, bank accounts, emails and any other thing they can find.
A Postal Service Analogy
It is just like writing a letter and dropping it off in a mailbox for the post office workers to pick up and deliver to the specified address. If the post box is open someone could pick up the letter before the mail man comes. This is what can be referred to as a middleman attack. This is the same thing that plays out digitally when a hacker gains access to your computer. He will be able to view your passwords, read your messages and keep an eye on any other thing you do over the network. People who are worst hit are usually those that use a single password for everything they do online. We hear people complain of these sorts of situations on a daily basis.
How Can You Avoid Attacks?
Today, most free wireless network providers are going away from the ad-hoc network mode of operation. If however, you find yourself using a network where you are not required to enter a password to gain access, do the following:
Ask the provider if they have provisions for a secured connection. Surfing the web over a secured network encrypts data as it travels to and from your computer. With this, it will become harder for the hacker to access your data, as the encrypted data will appear scrambled to him. Of course, this is not fail proof, but if the hacker doesn’t have any special interest in breaking into your device he will move on to his next victim.
While surfing the web keep an eye on the address bar of your web browser. If the address starts with “https” it indicates that your data is encrypted between your computer and the website you are visiting. If you go on a network that requires personal details and it doesn’t have this level of protection then you are prone to a phishing attack.
Do not conduct any form of financial transaction over public internet. This includes online banking, making purchases with a credit card, using e-money portals like PayPal, Liberty Reserve etc. Visiting any of these websites on a free wireless network is huge risk that must never be taken, no matter how pressing the need.
If possible, only use time spent on free wireless networks to stream video or online radio. This gives the hacker very little to work with.
Consider getting separate passwords for most sites you visit. You can have a password for social network sites you are part of, separate password for your email addresses and another password for websites you hold membership with. This way, you are not at 100% risk if someone manages to get hold of your Twitter password for instance. Also try and make all of your passwords really strong. You can use any of the numerous web based services to generate passwords for yourself and then save them on your phone in special password apps. Copying and pasting passwords where possible also prevents you from coming under key logger attacks.
Mi-Fi and the Threat of Hacking
Mi-Fi devices are erroneously considered easy to hack. This is not the case. In fact, the threat of security breach on these devices is very minimal and thus you can comfortably do all your online activity without worry. To be on the safe side though:
- Do not turn on your GPS while surfing the web
- Install an up-to-date antivirus software
- Update your web browser with every new release
- Turn on the anti-phishing option
- Turn off your Mi-Fi device when not in use
- If you are vigilant you won’t need to be worried about security threats while using wireless networks over Wi-Fi or Mi-Fi.