The Internet is everywhere, but unfortunately we cannot yet travel the world or even our home country taking our own secure Wi-Fi network with us. When traveling, we sometimes need to go online to shop, make a payment, look something up or just keep in touch with our friends. That’s when we need to connect to a wireless network at our location. How safe is this practice, and how can we protect ourselves?
There are many publications about the potential hazards posed by free-to-access Wi-Fi hotspots. However, it is still worth recapping the main threats which may exist in unknown wireless networks. That might be a man-in-the-middle attack, infection with a malware program via the network, or a redirection to an infected webpage. Not long ago, a new type of wireless network-born threat emerged. Cybercriminals create a fake network in a public place, such as a café, and give it a name similar to the official network provided in that place. In the fake network, they create a login page which prompts users to identify themselves by entering their credit card details, or even pay a nominal $1 which will allegedly be later returned to a user’s account. This is done to imitate some large online services which require clients to identify their banking details to demonstrate their ability to pay. However, in this case the money is unlikely to ever be returned – and sometimes far more than that symbolic dollar can be taken. This is just one of the possible hazards. To protect yourself against all of them, you need to take some specific measures.
• Check the name of the Wi-Fi network. A fake network can always be distinguished from a legitimate one in a number of ways. First, make sure the establishment you are in does in fact provide a free Internet access. Then, read the name of the available network and check it with the staff.
• Authentication of the wireless connection. It is a common practice for establishments to provide free Internet access with a temporary password provided by an administrator. Try to avoid networks that provide “easy” access to the Internet. Often they become the source of infection to your computer and/or mobile devices, as they may be serviced rarely or poorly.
• Use an antivirus. This advice applies at all times and for all occasions. An antivirus blocks all known and many unknown threats, assists with secure payments and prevents third-party programs from gaining access to confidential information.
• Do not use your confidential information when using unknown networks. Whenever possible, try not to do any online shopping or make payments while using unknown networks, especially free-access ones. If you do so, your credit card details may be stolen. Another hazard may arise if your social network login details are stolen: in this case, your friends may be at greater risk than you, as they could be tricked into giving away money or valuable information.
• Before you enter confidential information on websites, make sure they support HTTPS. This is an extra layer of protection against cybercriminals.
• Use your own Internet. Exactly. The best way of providing maximum online security is your own Internet connection. That is, get a mobile router or a smartphone that can function as a Wi-Fi hotspot. As soon as you have your travel plans, investigate the mobile Internet rates in the destination location. Once you are there, you can buy a local SIM card with the service plan you have chosen.