Technology is a blessing and a curse. It has provided us with a enumerable amount of applications touted to make our lives easier and better. While I believe that 80% of the apps in existence serve no purpose in “benefiting our lives” and are primarily for mindless entertainment, some apps really do help us save time while receiving and sharing information instantly.
Google maps is one example of a productive free app that helps us find our way to destinations with a tap of a screen. Never before could we get around so easily with confidence. Call blocking apps also empower people and save us from the endless marketers who want to sell us junk or rip us off from another country. Simply block the number. The “cloud” began to gain momentum in 2010 and almost universally convinced the world that their personal and private data “should be” backed up or stored completely on the web and away from the owner. Most people fell for it, because most people are too busy to think for themselves and take time to consider what the ramifications are when using a free or signing up for a paid service. The cloud actually makes very little sense because without an internet connection, you have zero access to your data unless you sync and store in both locations which few people actually do. This is another example of the power of the “collective unconscious”. People tend to follow what the masses are doing without an hours worth of research. Often, the entire purpose for migrating millions of people to the cloud was to get control over their data. Once you are “in” it is often very difficult to get out. Syncing your hard drive ( PC, Tablet and or phone ) to the cloud has almost irreversible consequences and lots of people are finding out the hard way.
Western Digital, Toshiba and countless others have been selling large external drives that enable anyone to keep their data in a secure location without any need to connect to the internet. No matter how hard for people to accept, the fact is that “anything” online is not secure. “Anything” held on a third party cloud drive is a risk and potentially exposed and even lost forever.
This brings us to the risk and reward of Free Wi-Fi networks. Even free public Wi-Fi comes with a cost. Security is not a free lunch. You can find free Wi-Fi hot spots everywhere, and you can even scout them out before you travel using an app called free wifi finder. Just keep in mind that crooks have several ways to snag your information when you’re using a Wi-Fi hot spot. There are many ways to become exposed on wifi hot spots, but the most common three are listed here.
1. Open Free Wi-Fi networks
Most free Wi-Fi comes courtesy of a coffee shop or hotel. But that free network might actually be a hacker-run router. Hackers have no problem setting up a router in a public area and naming it something like “coffee shop Wi-Fi” or “free hotel Wi-Fi.” It might even use the name of a business in the area. Plenty of people will connect without thinking or even taking a moment to check the front desk to confirm the establishments actual secure Wi-Fi name. Even worse, a hacker might set up next to a legitimate Wi-Fi network and give his/her network the same name. Even if you spot the duplication in the network list, you won’t know which one is safe if you don’t check.
Once you connect to the hacker’s network, (s)he can start probing your gadget for weaknesses and slip in viruses or spy on your browsing. He/she can also redirect your browsing so you end up on malicious websites. So how do you stay safe? Simple, stay off public Wi-Fi. But if you must use it, make sure you check with the business you’re visiting to verify the name of the Wi-Fi network – many places will require you to get a password or login “through” their login page and then you know you are on the correct network.
As you connect, scroll through the list of networks in the area. If you spot more than one with the same or similar name, let the business know. In most cases, it will be because the business has a dual-band Wi-Fi router that creates two networks – one at 2.4Ghz and one at 5Ghz, but you can’t be too careful.
Make sure your gadget’s operating system, browser and security software are up to date. That way, there won’t be holes for hackers to exploit.
You can also grab a VPN app to encrypt your Internet connection. That way, hackers won’t be able to snoop on what you’re sending and receiving. Click here for a popular VPN and other ways to keep info thieves off your gadget.
2. Packet sniffing
Of course, you don’t have to connect to hackers’ routers for them to snoop. Being on the same legitimate network is enough to cause trouble, thanks to packet sniffing. When you send and receive data over the Internet, the information is sent in millions of tiny packets. Hackers use packet sniffers to intercept these packets and read them to see what you’re doing. That includes snagging user names and passwords, reading your email, texts or social media posts and seeing what sites you’re visiting. This takes some tweaked hardware and special software, but it isn’t anything a halfway competent hacker can’t put together.
To protect yourself, you can use a VPN app or site to create an encrypted connection. You’ll also want to avoid entering your Credit Card information and visiting banking sites, on public Wi-Fi.
If you must bank on the go, (which I personally do not recommend) use the bank’s app on your smart phone or tablet over a cellular connection which has built in encryption.
3. Shared folders
Most people use Wi-Fi networks to access the Internet, and it’s easy to forget that the whole point of networking is to share information among computers or gadgets on the same network. If your gadget is set to share folders automatically, then anyone – not just a hacker – can see what you’re sharing. Fortunately, Windows Vista, 7 and 8 make it simple to automate your sharing settings. When connecting to a public hotspot for the first time, Windows asks for a location type. Make sure you set it to “public.” This will automatically modify sharing settings for maximum safety.
On a Mac, go to System Preferences>>Sharing and make sure all the sharing boxes are unchecked. You’ll have to turn on the controls again when you want to share files on your home or work network.
For now, you don’t really need to worry about this on a smart phone or tablet.
Of course, it works the other way. An enterprising hacker or prankster might share a “honeypot” folder on a public network. If your computer is connected, you might see it under your “shared” folders and be fooled into opening it.
Let’s say a hacker names a file “crazyhotphoto.jpg” or “diary.txt” – you know some people are going to open them. But they could actually be viruses in disguise that infect your computer.
When it comes to file sharing on public Wi-Fi, the rule is: Share nothing and don’t be nosy.