Wi-fi networks are everywhere now – but don’t be tempted to access just any one that happens to pop up when you’re out and about and want to get online quickly. Cyber criminals are lurking there now, and are even setting up fake "free” connections.
"Research shows that free wireless public networks located in airports, hotels, cafes and other public places are ripe for exploitation by the bad guys,” says Lloyd Borrett, specialist at AVG. "Data transmitted in a wireless network is more susceptible to being tampered with than a wired internet connection.”
It’s very easy for a cyber thief to set up a fake wi-fi spot with the aim of stealing online banking passwords and other personal information, Borrett says. In fact, instructions on how to do this can be found on hacker websites.
Operating systems like Windows XP/Vista/7 automatically prompt you to accept or decline connections to available wireless networks. Unfortunately, the lure of a "free” access point proves too strong for some users. What’s more, the SSIDs (Service Set Identifiers), or names, of wireless networks you’ve joined before are saved on your system. Your PC will automatically log on to any network with that saved name. So if a cyber-criminal offers a name familiar to you, he’s just given himself free entry to your PC.
To protect yourself from dodgy wi-fi networks:
- Always check before connecting, that you are going to a safe network. In public places, look for a notice that advertises the official name of the legitimate network you want to connect to.
- Don’t activate your wireless connection if you’re not planning to connect to the web. This will stop wi-fi hackers accessing your device.
- Turn off shared folders. If you unwittingly connect to a malicious network, a hacker could easily transfer malicious spyware onto your laptop.
- Be very careful what information you share in public locations. Think twice especially before accessing your bank account.
- Ensure that your security software, operating system, utilities and applications are always up to date.