We’ve all seen the benefits of connecting our electronic devices to a Wi-Fi network. We can easily check e-mail, weather, news, travel reservations, or many other pieces of information from pretty much anywhere. Making sure this information is secured is becoming more and more difficult.
When you log in from your home network, you are safe (assuming you have all of your security measures up to date). But when you use a public network, the information you send and receive is available for everyone to see. Up until recently, this information could only be accessed by intermediate-level hackers.
But a couple of weeks ago things changed. A developer released a Firefox plug-in called Firesheep. This plug-in allows anyone to view your cookies (tags applied to you when you surf the Internet) from any public Wi-Fi location. This allows a hacker to jump into the middle of a transaction, bypassing that pesky password requirement.
The good news is that most of the highly-sensitive information you send and receive via the Internet is encrypted and protected on secure servers. Banking, some e-mail platforms (such as Gmail), credit card transactions, and a few other applications are relatively safe, no matter where you access them. You can tell if a site is secure by the “https” prefix in the URL. It is not encrypted if it doesn’t have the “s.”
Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Wordpress, and others, however, don’t provide the SSL protection that keep hackers from viewing your information. While these sites don’t necessarily contain the most sensitive information about you, they do contain lots of details that could lead to that sensitive information.
If someone hacks into your Facebook account, for example, they might be able to glean your e-mail address and password, which could lead to bigger problems. A hacker who can access your Wordpress account could wreak havoc on your Web site or blog ... and be privy to sensitive business information.
Should we avoid public Wi-Fi networks altogether? Well, that would take away the convenience we’ve grown to love (and perhaps need). But there are a few things we can do to make sure we’re safe in the public Wi-Fi arena.
Use public Wi-Fi for more general Internet surfing where you don’t need a password.
Avoid checking non-secured e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter from a public network.
If you do need to check e-mail, use a secure host like Gmail.
Try not to update your blog or Web site in public areas.
Make sure your security patches and anti-virus measures are up to date.
Public Internet surfing doesn’t have to be scary. Just be sure to exercise a little restraint. If you need help getting your wireless network up to date with the most effective security measures, give the Computer Guys USA a call at (928) 468-0000. We’d love to answer any questions you may have.
Daniel Taft is the senior network administrator and member/owner of Computer Problem Specialists, LLC and CEO of “The Computer Guys USA” with a degree in applied computer science. His career spans more than 20 years.