How to Use Public Wireless to Prevent Data Theft?


Each passing day seems to headline yet another data breach placing our personal details into the hands of cybercriminals.

The massive data breach at Target, the huge hack at JPMorgan Chase & Co, the username, and password theft at Forbes are just a few instances highlighting the seriousness of data security. However, the recent emphasis on information theft from retailers and websites has dampened the focus on an even more serious privacy and security disaster called the public wireless networks.

Preventing Data Theft When Using Public Wireless

For all its upsides, free Wi-Fi seems to have some downsides as well. Businesses are well aware that free Web access is as valued as other important amenities.

A wireless router is inexpensive, easy to set up, and can cover a wide area. But these properties also make it an attractive target for attackers.

Also remember that even a layman, not necessarily an expert hacker, can secretly monitor or hijack mail communications over a public wireless network. The prevalence of freeware makes snooping on emails and browsing as simple as listening to music.

The biggest ongoing threat to consumer data is the proliferation of public Wi-Fi.  An attacker can pry the network traffic of an entire website via an iPad-sized device hidden in his bag.  The entire blame cannot be placed on just the networks alone.

User awareness of public Wi-Fi is on the lower side allowing people to routinely expose vital personal information over wireless hotspots, making networks an even more enticing target.

From time and again, security experts have pointed to the several options used by hackers to gain access to personal data. The fact that public network is public, and that anyone can join the network is what that makes it more unsafe.

An attacker’s first task is to get on the same network that a user uses. Once the network password is public, user security is automatically compromised.

The following are a few simple steps you can take to keep eavesdropping away.

Verifying the Name of the Network

  • One of the common attacks involve hackers setting a fake public wireless hotspot that passes off as a legitimate one.
  • This attack usually works because users are allowed to surf the Web as they normally would.
  • The issue is that emails, website logins, social networking site activities are being siphoned by hackers.
  • To prevent such a disaster, ask the shop’s employee for the full name of the network and check if it matches the one on the Wi-Fi menu, before connecting to any hotspot.

HTTPS in the Address Bar

  • Encrypting communications between a website and a PC is vital for maintaining security and privacy.
  • The most widely enforced encryption form involves just a careful look at a Web browser’s address (URL) bar.
  • A website address that begins with “HTTPS” (S being the crucial part) serves as an indicator that SSL connection is active.
  • With SSL encryption, the data sent and received is shielded from online snoopers, so that even if the transiting data is intercepted it is unreadable.
  • The SSL protocol is the technology that sites enforce on their back end.
  • SSL has been a standard practice for communication sites Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Yahoo and financial institutions.
  • Any legitimate business would have enabled SSL in its login page, account information page, or payment details page.
  • An important part of SSL’s effectiveness depends on a site’s verification of the identity of a browser.
  • If the browser is unable to verify the site’s legitimacy, then users will get a pop-up message alerting them to an untrusted connection.

Make Use of a VPN Service

  • Another way to encrypt all browsing traffic is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service.
  • A VPN acts as a barrier between a user and the Internet by routing all transiting information in an encrypted form via a physical server.
  • Hackers can only see unclear messages between a system and the secondary VPN server.

It is neither magic nor rocket science to keep data safe. While retailers and website owners should take all the steps to protect user privacy, we as users also should do our part in the same. All that is required is little awareness, and the above mentioned simple steps to secure your personal information and enjoy the convenience of public wireless.