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Public WiFi Popular but Very Risky

Hackers have a vast digital ocean in which to hunt for unsuspecting prey. Public wireless Internet access is ubiquitous these days, and it is dangerous. From your local bookstore to your local coffee shop to your local library, there is likely some sort of wireless Internet access available for your computer or your mobile device. Research by Cisco, PC World, Media Post, VeraCode and Column Five, however, details some serious risks associated with wireless Internet about which users should be aware.

Some Common Hacks

While the encryption protocols and other security measures on any wireless network are usually what users look at when they are determining the overall security situation, it’s really the human element that introduces risk. After all, you could safely use a completely unsecured wireless network in a world where nobody had a motivation to hack your connection, but you don’t live in that world. Hackers use some common techniques to get access to your data.

One common technique is called packet sniffing. On a public wireless network that is not locked down, all of the information is transmitted in a readable form. Using widely available – and free – programs, hackers can intercept your communications, steal your passwords, steal your website credentials and, in some cases, steal more sensitive information.

A honeypot is a network that is set up to lure unsuspecting victims. A common technique that is used for this type of hack involves creating a wireless network with a name virtually identical to the name of a legitimate wireless network nearby. Hackers are counting on people accidentally connecting to the wrong network, thereby giving the hackers access to that user’s data. Make certain that you look for duplicate – or nearly duplicate – network names when you hook up any wireless device to an Internet connection and a public place.

While cookies may be regarded as nuisances by most Internet users, they’re precious for hackers. Hackers can steal your cookies while you are accessing social networking sites and other sites and impersonate you. Unfortunately, cookies do contain your login information and it is readable to anybody with enough knowledge to perform a hack on a public wireless network.


While there are individual solutions for all of these hacks – and many others – one overarching solution is to use a VPN service. A VPN service encrypts your connections end to end so that, if somebody tries to intercept them, the information is not readable. In addition to using a VPN service, make certain that you turn off the WiFi access on any mobile devices you have unless you are deliberately connecting to a network. This way, you can avoid your wireless devices automatically connecting to an available wireless network that may be compromised or that may actually even be a honeypot.

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