We know that traveling and business go hand-in-hand. Whether you are traveling by car and staying in hotels, or waiting at the airport for your next flight, there is almost always a wireless network to connect to. The convenience is obvious, and we all like to maximize our time. However, unprotected wireless connections can leave your data vulnerable – this is the subject of a recent email from a friend. Through holiday trips and destination meetings, we at Zee Creative hope you travel safely and protect your data by choosing carefully how you use public wireless networks.
dangers of public wireless networks
The convenience of wireless Internet access has made it very popular, and access can be found everywhere in coffee shops, airports, libraries etc. My message to you today is: avoid this temptation. There are a number of scary computer attacks that someone can perpetrate while sitting at a coffee shop, sipping a latte. These attacks are particularly devastating on “open wireless networks.” An open wireless network is one that is unencrypted. This means you can sit down at a table, open your wireless application on your computer, and connect without a password. These are the most dangerous kinds of wireless networks.
Here’s an example of what can happen connecting to one of these networks. You sit down with your coffee and log into Facebook. Boom – it’s already over. The guy on the other side of the coffee shop has already stolen your “session cookie.” Now, he can use your session cookie to log in to your Facebook account without your username and password.
This problem is due to how unencrypted wireless networks handle session cookies, and the lack of security on the website you’re visiting. When you visit Facebook, the site basically broadcasts your session cookie to everyone on the network to which you’re connected. All the attacker has to do is grab it out of the air, then they can use it to browse the site. This is suprisingly simple to do.
Here are the sites on which this attack is known to be a problem. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it illustrates how even big websites have not addressed the problem:
keep your data safe while on the go
So what can you do if you have to use one of these networks? Use a broadband card with your CEM VPN which encrypts the traffic (scrambles it so it’s unusable), avoid wireless networks if possible and avoid using sites that don’t use HTTPS.
You can tell if a site is using HTTPS by looking at the address: https://gmail.com is much more secure than http://gmail.com. The S denotes “secure” and the traffic is encrypted. Normal HTTP uses just plain text. This is the most important thing you should take away from this article, because the risk not only impacts your professional life, but your personal life as well. If you’re banking, buying things, transmitting sensitive information, or doing anything else confidential, always make sure you see the HTTPS in the address. This applies to wired connections as well.
If you’re using your own personal computer and don’t have the luxury of a VPN or broadband card, there are other free options such as residential VPN services.
In general, avoid connecting to public wireless networks when possible. There are too many awful things that people can do with your passwords and personal data. “Secured” wireless can also be problematic. When possible, use broadband cards with your VPN which are far more secure and harder to exploit.