Thanks to Laurence from the Forth Valley Chamber of Commerce who gave me the idea for writing this article.
Public wifi is fantastic. You can get online for free (usually) and in seconds you are accessing websites, retrieving emails and generally getting work done. There is one major drawback though which most people never give a thought to – security.
You see most public wifi is unsecured and even those that do have encryption enabled are little better as the encryption key is given out to a customer when they buy a cup of coffee (in the case of coffee shops). By its very nature it is designed to be convenient but the big problem is you don’t know who else is on the network.
Lets take your business network as an example. You may have some PC’s or laptops that connect to the router using ethernet cables (very secure) whilst some may be connected via wifi (mostly secure). Either way every computer will be able to see every other computer and you know who is on your network at any one time. On a public wifi network every computer can see any other computer but you don’t know who that computer belongs to. It could be a genuine person doing some work or a hacker trying to get hold of your passwords.
Think I’m making this up? Go online and download a program called Wireshark. Wireshark is a network protocol analyzer which is designed to monitor all traffic on a network. It is a valuable tool for network administrators wanting to know what is happening on their networks. If you run Wireshark on a public wifi network you will see all the traffic coming to and from each laptop. In the wrong hands Wireshark can be used to intercept emails, passwords or even credit card details.
Scary stuff hey?
So how do you minimise the risk?
1. If you are accessing a company network use a VPN like LogMein Hamachi which encrypts all information to and from the network.
2. Make sure that your email settings are set up use SSL encryption (in and out) so even if your emails are intercepted a hacker will not be able to read them.
3. Do not do online banking on a public wifi network!!
4. Be very wary of which websites you visit and if possible try to use sites which start with https rather than http.
Chances are that you will never get hacked on a public wifi network but personally I would make it as hard as possible for anyone to gain access to my data or systems.
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