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September 2015 - The Risks of Public WiFi

A man working on a laptopMost of us are cautious about discussing personal matters in public, yet we don’t think twice before conducting confidential business over public WiFi networks. We should.

Generally, information sent over public WiFi transmits in clear text, meaning everyone on that network can access the information without the aid of sophisticated tools.

Some ways information can be accessed is through:

  • Honeypots – phony public hotspots set up in the hope you will connect to them. Once you do, thieves can access your passwords, credit card numbers, bank account information, and any other transmitted data.

  • Session hacking – where thieves steal “browser cookies,” which are small bits of data designed to allow websites to remember your information and activity. This can happen if you fail to logout after completing your transactions on a website that requires login credentials. By stealing these credentials and pretending to be you, hackers can access additional personal data or conduct transactions in your name.

Thieves run up debt; destroy credit histories, which can result in the denial of loans, mortgages and even employment; and commit other crimes in their victims’ names. Others steal medical identities, a potentially life-threatening situation as these victims are sometimes unable to fill prescriptions or are denied treatments until the problem is resolved. It can take years to undo these damages.

Despite these risks, 70% of respondents to a survey by Identity Theft Resource Center acknowledged that passwords alone offered insufficient protection over public WiFi, yet about 25% admitted making online purchases and 57% said they accessed confidential, job-related information over these networks.

If you must conduct confidential business over public WiFi, take some precautions:

  • Turn off your device’s “connect automatically” and “shared files” features;

  • Use an encryption service, available in packages ranging from single day to year-round protection

  • Look for “https” in the website address or a lock icon, both of which signify a secure website

  • Keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware up to date and firewalls activated

  • Only update software on secure networks

  • Disable your wireless connection when not in use

  • Use strong passwords

Better yet, consider saving confidential transactions for your secure home network.

As published in the September 2015 issue of the "Clinton Township Newsletter."
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