Most people are way too complacent when accessing public Wi-Fi at the airport, coffee shop, hotel, and so on. The video embedded below powerfully shows you the very real dangers that can exist when you join a public Wi-Fi network. It does so in a way that writing about them can never seem to accomplish:
What is scary is that the method shown in this video doesn’t require any advanced hacking skills or expensive hardware. A reasonably intelligent teenager would have the knowledge (and money) to perform this hack using their laptop, whilst sitting at the airport, or in a shopping mall.
What was demonstrated in the video, is commonly called a ‘man-in-the-middle attack‘. Instead of connecting to the Wi-Fi network you intended to join, you’re actually connected directly to a hacker’s computer that is pretending to be that Wi-Fi network.
The reason this method can work so well is that people see the words “free Wi-Fi”, and are eager to jump onboard to check their email, Facebook, and so on. They don’t check to see if the network belongs to whom they think it does. Or – because they don’t want to pay for Internet access – they’re tempted by what looks like a Wi-Fi network that doesn’t require a password, like at a coffee shop. The unprotected network acts as a ‘honeypot’, and many people will go straight for it!
What most people don’t realise is that this type of hacking is just the tip of the iceberg. When you see the kind of information that smartphones leak and what hackers can do with it, its quite revealing. Here’s a link to a podcast where The Naked Scientists discuss a broad range of these kinds of issues in a way that is accessible to the average person.
There are some simple (and inexpensive) things you can do to increase your level of protection, though.
A Virtual Private Network (‘VPN’) is a service that enables you to connect securely and anonymously to the Internet. Basically, your data is scrambled by the VPN before it leaves your device so that nobody can read it, even if they can intercept it. Your data is then unscrambled by the VPN when it reaches its final destination, like the bank website. If you don’t use a VPN, anybody that intercepts your data can see it in the original form – just like in the video. That may reveal your passwords, contents of emails, instant messages you’re sending, websites you’re viewing, and so on. Using a VPN, nobody can see what you’re doing online, or the information you’re transmitting: except the VPN service provider.
Using a VPN like Cloak, TunnelBear, PrivateTunnel, WiTopia, or one of the many other good VPNs you can find for your laptop or smartphone, would block the hackers from viewing the personal information that was revealed in this video.
Because you can get a good VPN like TunnelBear that offers 500MB data traffic free per month (and an extra 1GB if you tweet about them), there’s no reason for not doing so.
A service like TunnelBear is also really easy to set up and use, as the video below shows, so there’s no need to feel intimidated by fancy jargon like ‘VPN’. You simply download the app to your smartphone or computer, and sign-up for an account at the VPN service providers website or on your smartphone. Next you launch the app, sign-in, click ON to connect to the VPN, and your browsing is protected.
You can view the full story at the CBS News website, its well worth watching.
Good VPNs for smartphones and computers
Cloak – 30 day free trial – Download here
PrivateTunnel – 2GB free trial – Download here
TunnelBear – 500MB – 1.5GB /month free – Download here
WiTopia – Download here