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Why Free Wi-Fi Means Free Access for Hackers

By Dennis Jones

Free Wi-Fi might cut down your front-end costs, but you risk compromising your financial security.

Free Wi-Fi also Free for Hackers

Workforce mobility is an unmistakable, unshakeable reality of today’s business landscape. Employees are spending bigger and bigger chunks of the daily pie out of the office, whether at the airport, on a long layaway, or commuting via rail. In the global office, one thing is clear: connectivity is crucial! Outside of the home and office, it seems Free Wi-Fi is your only bet to connect. “Hey, it’s free and right there,” you might think. But little do you know standing (virtually) behind that harmless connection is a whole host of internet malefactors, hackers. Your free connection is actually a compromised portal, possibly transporting your financial information right into the hands of malicious hackers.

Actually, the risk of encountering a compromised connection grows by leaps and bounds the longer you’re connected to free Wi-Fi. And recent exposés, such as one aired on “Today,” have highlighted how frequently hackers target free Wi-Fi hotspots in popular tourist destinations. And that’s because the fake Wi-Fi scheme is pretty unsophisticated, requiring relatively little tech savvy. You might have heard of the Man-in-the-Middle Attack (or MITM,) which just means that a computer attacker puts himself (or herself) between two parties, usually a user and supplier, who think they’re speaking directly to each other. The hacker only needs to set up a hotspot to imitate a real Wi-Fi access point, tricking you, the user, into using the fake spot instead of the real.

Many, if not most, free Wi-Fi users just aren’t paying attention to the access points they’re connecting to. But once a user has connected to one of these fake hotspots, which populate the free Wi-Fi universe, any credential given, communication sent, or transaction made becomes free game for a hacker.

Predictably, users face potentially huge losses, if they fall prey to hacking via an “evil twin attack.” And these guerilla-type operations come in a number of forms. For instance, you can think of hackers literally listening into and stealing traffic. These losses can be dire, especially when client or banking information is involved. Phishing is another major concern, in other words, hackers set up a “dummy page” to trick users into giving them consumer data.

Our world is incredibly mobile – and workforce mobility, in particular, is a surefire conduit for productivity. With workforce mobility becoming established practice, mobile devices are the links connecting us back to the office. Unfortunately, mobile devices, especially mobile apps, are also our collective soft underbellies when it comes to our security on the Internet.

So armed with this information, what can you do to protect yourself when you access the Internet outside of the home or office? The first thing that stands out, of course, is simply avoid public Wi-Fi hotspots. Be especially vigilant that you don’t allow your mobile device to connect to public Wi-Fi.

There’re also some proactive steps you can take. And none better than a VPN, or virtual private network. Let me paint a picture, your information is passing through a whole host of access points on the internet before reaching its destination server and vice versa. A VPN opens up an end-to-end tunnel between your device and that distant location, so you can rest easy that your data is secure.