The internet and wireless age have made life easy for all of us now that we can respond to our emails and surf the internet while we sip a latte, wait for a meeting, or communicate almost anywhere and anytime without the hassles of wires. Unfortunately, these benefits have come with a cost. Our love for the convenience, freedom, and flexibility of being wireless has made us potential targets for hackers, fraudsters who can connect to our computers just as easily as we connect to the Internet.
What’s the impact? The hackers can wreck havoc when they take over your computer and steal files off of your hard drive. Even worse, some may capture your passwords or steal your personal information such as credit card and bank account information. This identity thief will then use your identity to make purchases from e-commerce sites or to transfer money out of your account.
We are responsible and accountable for our own personal and our company information. That means we need to be aware of the basic security precautions that prevent the above problems from happening to us.
1. Be Careful with Wireless Hotspots
Wireless hotspots or Wi-Fi hotspots – places in fast food outlets, café, hotels, etc. where you can connect wirelessly to the Internet – are a popular trend. What most users do not know is that those wireless hotspots’ connections are unsecured for convenience. Hackers can get on and can access the computers of the connected targeted user. That is a scary thought.
One of the popular attacks is called “Evil Twin.” The attacker near one of the wireless hotspots creates a fake public Access Point (AP). If the user is close by, the signal will be stronger and the user will connect to the fake access point instead of the real one. The attacker can provide the users with a fake web page asking them for passwords, personal and credit card information. To protect yourself, avoid signing into any of your confidential accounts or sending any sensitive data at wireless hotspots.
That does not mean “invisible” hackers are your only threat at wireless hotspots. Someone standing behind you or sitting near to you is just as likely to peep at and sniff your user name and password as you type them.
2. Use Firewalls
Personal firewalls do not stop evil twin attacks but having a personal firewall is a basic precaution that can protect your computer from many of the things hackers try to do including scanning computers for vulnerabilities and trying to penetrate them.
You should also configure your personal firewall properly for monitoring the incoming and outgoing traffic and always ensure that the firewall is turned on.
3. Use a Strong “Anti-” Arsenal
While we generally think of infecting our computers with viruses or spyware by opening email attachments or visiting certain web sites, hackers are known for introducing spyware, keyloggers to capture your key strokes, etc. via wireless connections the same way we would receive legitimate files from a co-worker. These dangerous programs can also be downloaded from certain web sites.
Using anti-virus and anti-spyware software to scan the incoming emails attachment and online files so they will alert you and block them instantaneously if any viruses or spyware are found prevents damage. Scheduled, regular scanning of your computer is also necessary.
These basic safety precautions will only protect you if you keep them updated as and when you scan your system regularly.
4. Use Encryption and Strong Passwords
You can protect your wireless network by using encryption and network key / password with your router. Wireless routers provide Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) data encryption together with a Media Access Control (MAC) address. You will need to configure your MAC address and a network key that only allows you and other legitimate users to securely log in to the network.
As a user, you should always have strong and different passwords to log into your different email accounts, bank accounts, trading accounts, etc. Passwords that would not be easy to guess and that are a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters work best. Confidential file attachments should also be encrypted and / or password protected before you send them via email.
In the end, protecting your wireless connection is not just about installing a firewall and anti-virus software then leaving them alone. You have to know where you are using the internet, what web sites you are visiting, and what information you are giving out through those wireless hotspots. It’s also about security awareness, education and a combination of preventative measures that you need to know and practice consistently. Remember being cautious is always better than wishing you had done something differently.