Contemplating the dangers of public WiFi

ACN's Alexander Pieri discusses the threats poised by open wireless networks

Tags: Cyber crimeCyber warfareITP Media Group (itp.com/)United Arab Emirates
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Contemplating the dangers of public WiFi Alexander Sophoclis Pieri, editor of Arabian Computer news.
By  Alexander Sophoclis Pieri Published  August 25, 2017

I recently had the opportunity to do a bit a travel that got me out of apartment and into a fancy hotel for a spell. What I found interesting about my brief stay was the way in which the hotel set up its wireless network, both for the public areas and for the guest rooms.

Basically different areas of the hotel maintained their own independent and open WiFI, regardless of how far apart these spaces were.

For example, one could walk a few feet from the lobby to the ground-floor restaurant and access both the wireless networks in those areas.

This arrangement was also used on the guest floors, each room hosting its own independent and open WiFi.

That meant that anyone standing at my door from the outside would be able to access my WiFi, and I could have done the same to anyone in the building.

I don't know of any other hotel that quite uses this setup - it was certainly a first in my experience - but it did get me thinking about the type of problems this design might have. Not from an operational cost point-of-view, though I can't imagine running all those routers and WiFi extenders would be cheap, but more of the security challenges.

For many cybercriminals, public wireless networks has become their new stomping ground, a watering hole of sorts that they use to stalk any prey that arrives to access the web and check emails.

Even if there is no hacker in the nearby vicinity, public WiFi's can still be dangerous for all those connected. All it takes is one web surfer to access the wrong site, or open a suspicious attachment on an email, and before you know it, the entire network is infected.

Any device connected to that network is a potential target, and the fact of the matter is not all users are diligent in ensuring their preferred gadget is protected. And this doesn't necessary refer to having effective security protection either.

While it is advised that users install security protection software on their respective devices - keeping it up-to-date as well - fewer users are aware of what data is being released by their respective smartphone or laptop. This is because hardly anyone double-checks their public network sharing settings.

A recent report released from FireEye also noted a spiked increase of hackers targeting government and business leaders taking summer holidays.

According to the security firm, the attacks were targeted against guest wireless networks at hotels in both Europe and the Middle East, which once compromised, allowed hackers to spy on their chosen targets and steal personal data, such as credentials.

It is scary to think that you can be a target while out and about in public, but the idea of being targeted while on vacation is even more worrying.

The best thing to do is ensure that your operating system software and security protection is up-to-date, your privacy settings are enabled and public profile limited, and simply avoid conducting any exercises that involves personal or financial data. That includes limiting social media access (don't tell anyone you're on vacation), as well as avoid financial transactions over an open network.

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