Endpoint Security

Prey Labs: How to protect your laptop while using a Wi-Fi hotspot

Not many people are aware of the vulnerabilities they expose themselves to while using free hotspots. So here are 7 tips to take into account when using Wi-Fi hotspots.

April 10, 2013

According to Jiwire, there are around 823,314 free and paid Wifi hotspots in the world. There are 135,758 in the United States alone, meaning there's a pretty good chance you have used at least one of these hotspots at a hotel, the subway station, the nearest Starbucks or even the bus, yet, not many people are aware of the vulnerabilities they expose themselves to while using these hotspots, which include stolen social network, banking and e-mail information to name but a few.

But, don't panic.

The Prey Team is here to help you with your device's safety and so we present you 7 tips to take into account when using Wi-Fi hotspots.

1. Connect to a trusted network

It is very frequent for malicious people to set up fake open wi-fi networks so as to attract innocents who would connect and navigate through their facebook and/or bank account, unknowingly giving away their account information.These scammers tend to create very general SSIDs such as Free Public Wi-Fi. So, before connecting to any network try to confirm with the establishment the name of it. That is to say, ask the employees for the correct SSID before connecting.Also, distrust any network that is 100% open. The chances of if being a fake network are very high. Most serious networks have WPA2, WPA or WEP types of encryption that don't allow everyone to connect.

2. Prioritize WPA2 encryption

Networks have different types of security protocols and certifications which allow your network to send encoded data from your device to the router. Choosing the weakest makes your device unsecured, thus, try to connect to a WPA2 encrypted network which is the safest. If that's not possible, then another good option is WPA, and finally connect to a WEP encrypted network (the least secured). It's also a good idea to set up your home router with WPA2 encryption.

3. Set up a SSH Tunnelling connection

SSH Tunneling is useful when you are using a Wi-Fi network you don't trust and need to interface with a website sending information, e.g. a bank.For that to be done, you have to create a tunneled connection to another computer which is placed in a trusted network; i.e. if you are in a Starbucks cafe with your laptop, you can create a tunnel to your home server and use it to connect to the bank's servers. The cool thing is that everything you send through the tunnel is encrypted, which means it cannot be decoded easily by possible eavesdroppers. If you are interested in learning to set up your own tunnel using the SSH protocol, visit this link.

4. Use SSL and HTTPS encryption

SSL (Secure Socket Layer) is a type of encryption which can be used whenever you navigate on the web. It encrypts your browsing information by adding an extra layer of protection. In order to use it, you only need to add an s after the http in the URL block, like this:

Sadly, not every website allows SSL type encryption. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the banking websites, social networks and e-mail clients do support SSL.

5. Use your firewall

There are a lots of risks in using a Wi-Fi hotspot. You never know who else is connected to the same network and if someone is trying to monitor, or even worse, break into your computer's services. A good way to keep your computer secure is by always having your firewall, antivirus and anti-spam software updated.

6. Never access your bank or credit card information out of a trusted network

Wi-Fi hotspots are never 100% secure, thus, never access your bank account or use your credit cards while using public Wi-Fi. It is also a good idea to avoid using the same user/password combination in any other website.

7. Password protect your files

If someone is able to reach your computer, it is a good idea to password protect your files, so that they can't snatch your information. Some operating systems come with a feature that allows this, but there are also programs like Gallery Lock Pro and File Cover for Android and Lockdown Pro and Locktopus for iOS among others.

Of course, you cannot have absolute security, but now you have the power to avoid the most common threats. Enjoy and Happy hunting!

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