According to experts, the number of global Internet users has increased from 1.3 billion in 2007 to 2.7 billion in 2013. At the same time, the number of online threats has also escalated from 2.37 unique threats per hour in 2006 to 8,200 unique threats per hour in 2013. One new threat involves wireless local area network (WLAN) and Wi-Fi authentication. Wi-Fi hotspots have sprung up everywhere, from cafes to airport terminals. However, these hotspots are open networks that are vulnerable to security breaches. Because they don’t encrypt data, your passwords, emails and other information could be visible to hackers. Wireless networking can be kind of scary from a security standpoint. It opens up whole new attack vectors that were not present with wired connections.
Wi-Fi hotspots are convenient for workers on the go and they allow mobile users to have Internet access without spending their precious cellular data allowances. But one of the biggest concerns for wireless users is making sure their router and wireless network are secure. By following a few safety tips, you can feel safer when using Wi-Fi hotspots. When setting up and maintaining Secure Wi-Fi home networks, consider these tips for maximizing the security of the computers and data on these networks.
Never Assume That a Wi-Fi Connection Is Secure
Secure networks use encryption technology to send data from your computer to a server. Servers operate websites and allow both the collection and delivery of content. If a network is not secure, then personal information is exposed as it travels to a server. Not only Wi-Fi hotspots, but also home wireless networks are vulnerable to hacking. Experts have noted three types of Wi-Fi network hacks:
1. Trivial exploits. These attacks are launched directly against a router and require no human interaction. Session hijacking, for example, reroutes traffic between a computer and a server through a second computer, giving the hacker access to sensitive data.
2. Unauthenticated attacks. Unauthenticated attacks do not require login credentials, but they require people to either click a suspicious link or navigate to a malicious Web page.
3. Authenticated attacks. With these attacks, hackers either gain access to login credentials or piggyback on an active session while the victim is logged in.
Ways to Protect Yourself When Using a WLAN
The website OnGuardOnline.gov has some great tips for public Wi-Fi safety. Here are some of their tips, plus a few more:
- Check for encryption. Before transmitting confidential information from your computer, confirm the website is encrypted by looking for the “https” at the beginning of the Web address or URL. Also, make sure that not only the homepage, but also every page of the site has “https” at the top of the URL.
- Always log out of your accounts. Never click “Remember me on this computer” when you’re using a public computer connected to Wi-Fi (or any public computer). If you check a sensitive account over Wi-Fi, always log out and then shut the browser window.
- Switch up your passwords. If you’re guilty of using the same password for every account, then you need to make some changes. Checking your email over Wi-Fi could give a hacker access to your email password. If that password is also your bank account password, then the hacker could access your financial information.
– Install or activate a firewall. Some operating systems and antivirus software packages have firewalls that keep hackers from accessing your computer through a vulnerable Wi-Fi network.
- Encrypt your email. Check your email account settings and look for something such as “always use https” or “more secure connection.” These connections should encrypt your emails.
- Use a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN encrypts traffic even when a network isn’t secure. Your workplace may have its own VPN, or you can get a VPN account from a service provider.
- Look for browser add-ons and plug-ins. Your browser may have add-ons that provide extra security for your computer. If you use Firefox, for example, then you can use add-ons like HTTPS-Everywhere to protect your information.
If your browser warns you about a particular website, then heed the warning and don’t proceed. For instance, the Google Chrome browser exhibits a brick-red Web page and an alert when it detects you are navigating to a malicious website. Also, if your browser says a Wi-Fi network has an invalid security certificate, then don’t join the network. Finally, always download browser updates so that you have the latest security capabilities. Wi-Fi networks are convenient, but they are also vulnerable — if you don’t take appropriate precautions.
About the Author: Noah Gamer directs the global Internet Marketing optimization and product Web reputation strategy as the Senior Manager of Search Marketing at Trend Micro Cyber Protection. He specializes in Web product strategy development, competitive analysis, targeted content ranking methods and site optimization while influencing online identity and brand for product marketing, public relations, investor relations, technical support and corporate marketing initiatives.