Dangers of public Wi-Fi - Top 5 tips to stay safe

“Public Wi-Fi is inherently insecure."

A hacking experiment conducted by security and privacy software company F-Secure has demonstrated the dangers of using public Wi-Fi.

Findings of the experiment has lead to the company to advise that if individuals and businesses ever use public Wi-Fi, they must understand the risks and put protection measures in place.

By hacking three prominent UK politicians, with their permission, F-Secure demonstrated that public networks open up a range of attack options for malicious hackers.

The team accessed one politician’s email account despite his strong password.

“Public Wi-Fi is inherently insecure,” says Adam Smith, Country Manager, ANZ, F-Secure.

“It took the team less than 30 minutes to hack all popular devices and, in some cases, it took less than five. The hackers collected detailed browsing history, VoIP phone calls, email accounts, all email history and contacts, online financial services, and social media accounts.

“Once an account has been hacked, it is relatively easy to access other accounts, such as Gmail and PayPal, as people tend to only use a couple of passwords.

“Cracking an email account is valuable because people often store other account and password details in their email.”

The team intercepted and recorded a Voice over IP phone call made by another politician from his hotel room. They used technology freely available on the Internet and easy to master.

A third politician was browsing the Internet in a café when the ethical hackers sent her an email telling her to log back into her Facebook account. When she did so, the hacker obtained her login details and accessed her Facebook account.

“Accessing a Facebook account may seem trivial but a smart attacker knows that the information they can gain from Facebook is useful,” Smith adds.

“For example, by knowing your interests, they can craft a phishing email that you are more likely to open. Alarmingly, some people use similar passwords for their Facebook account and, say, their PayPal account, which leaves them open to financial losses.

“Once a hacker has accessed personal accounts, the next step is to use that information to access business emails and corporate networks. At this point the risk is no longer just personal; the person’s employer is now likely to be attacked.

“Public Wi-Fi is a fantastic service and people shouldn’t feel afraid to use it. They should simply take steps to protect themselves and the companies they work for. I believe all businesses should mandate a security policy for employees using public Wi-Fi.”

As a result, F-Secure has identified five tips to stay safe on public Wi-Fi:

1. Use a virtual private network (VPN)

2. Turn off sharing

3. Control your connections

4. Use two-factor authentication

5. Turn on your firewall and use anti-virus software

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