Using the Internet more securely (Part 2) – What are the risks you face when using a wireless network away from home?

When you’re using the wireless network at the local coffee house you’re relaxing in, or the hotel you’re staying at, or the airport you’re camped out in waiting for your next flight, chances are, you’re using an “unsecured” wireless network. These are public Wi-Fi hotspots. They provide a connection to the Internet – that’s pretty much all. In these networks, data is transmitted through the air and anyone nearby can easily capture it with the right tools. Even if you’re not browsing the web at the time, this same person can gain access to your device, and potentially all of the information on it, unless you’ve protected your device.

Most of the risks you face pertain to someone getting access to your personal financial information (account usernames and passwords), your bank or credit card accounts or to personal private information such as photos, contact information, notes, etc. As a result, they can steal money from you or use your credit/debit cards to make purchases for themselves. Or they might have access to some photos or information that you don’t want others to have access to – especially people that might push these items out to others or share them on the web.

Here are some of the key risks to be aware of when using the Internet when you’re away from home.

When you’re using an unsecured network, a person nearby you can access the information, including any that’s confidential; that you are transmitting over the Internet when you are web browsing or sending and receiving e-mails.

Someone can intercept the information you are sending over the Internet – by using equipment that doesn’t cost a whole lot. They can see the account information (username, password) that you used to log into one of your accounts. They can read the information in the e-mail you sent to a friend or family member. How many times do people send confidential information in an e-mail to a family member so they can access one of their accounts while they’re out of town.

Many cell phone devices and cellular plans allow you to use your device as a personal hotspot. This allows you to connect your laptop to your phone’s cellular connection to access the Internet. Someone can set-up his or her own personal hotspot near you, call it “airport wifi” (which is why it’s called the “evil twin”) and get you to log onto it unknowingly. You might think it’s the Wi-Fi network for the airport you’re sitting in. If you do logon to the hacker’s hotspot, you will still be connecting to the Internet; however, you will be relaying all information (including account log-on information) through this hacker that’s between you and the websites you’re accessing. As you access various web sites, the hacker can capture all of the information you are sending including account usernames and passwords.

A person can gain access to your device and all of the information that is stored on it – photos, documents (e.g. Word or Excel), e-mails, text messages.

A hacker can spot nearby devices that are accessing the wireless network. If your device is connected to the network and does not have adequate protection, the hacker can gain access to your computer. As a result, they can have visibility to the information contained on your device or they can possibly take control of your device and access your private accounts or distribute malware on it.

Someone can steal your device, or find it if you’ve lost it, and potentially have access to all of the information contained on it – much of it might be sensitive information that you don’t want other people to have access to.

While browsing the web, you can inadvertently download a virus onto your device that could potentially damage your device, delete the information on it or allow someone to gain access to your device.

Clicking on a link that’s contained in an e-mail you receive or a link that’s located on a website you are browsing, might allow a harmful virus to be downloaded onto your device.

Issues can arise when using a P2P network to share files with other computers.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss how you can prepare your devices, prior to departing on your trip or visiting the local coffee house, to provide more protection when using the Internet.

Be sure to read the next article Preparing Your Devices Before You Leave Home, which is Part 3 of our weeklong series Using the Internet More Securely.

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