Beware of Fake Wi-Fi Hotspots

With the connected world that we live in, it’s convenient to be able to access e-mail, pay bills and find out the score of the football game from wherever we are. If you’re retrieving this information while connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot at your local Panera, Starbucks or in between flights at the airport though, someone else may easily be accessing your information.

Issue #1: Fake HotSpots

Hackers can set up fake Wi-Fi hotspots in public places to access your information, e-mails and passwords without your knowledge. When you’re in a public place that offers Wi-Fi you may notice multiple networks available to join. Let’s say that you’re at Panera and see “Panera” and “Free_Panera” networks and automatically think, ‘I want the free Wi-Fi’. This network may be an ad hoc spot, a Wi-Fi hotspot set up in a public place used to steal transmitted data. If you are banking online or sending work e-mails from this fake hotspot, a hacker can see and steal your information.

Airports in particular are a popular place for hackers to set up fake Wi-Fi. According to a BBB report, in 2008 there were 20 ad hoc hotspots at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport used by hackers to obtain information from computers and networks.

To protect your data, verify that the network that you’re connecting to is the business’ legitimate Wi-Fi. Once you’re connected, you can look at the URL to find out if your web browsing is secure. If you are using an HTTPS website then your information is secure but if the website has an HTTP address, your browsing is not secure and hackers can access any of the data that you transmit.

If you aren’t using the Internet on your device, you should switch off the wireless card to ensure that you don’t automatically connect to an unsecure network.

Issue #2: Unlocked Wi-Fi

A public Wi-Fi hotspot is not the only place where your data and security can be compromised. Your home or work Wi-Fi is unsafe if it’s unlocked and doesn’t require a password for use. Hackers can access an unlocked private network to reach the information on your computer. Setting up a password to access the Wi-Fi will help keep your computer more secure but don’t use any personal information, such as birthdates or kid’s initials, as the password.

The network name itself on your Wi-Fi should also not use any personal information, such as “Tom’s Wi-Fi”. Anyone nearby can see this network name and use it to identify you.