Would you sign over your firstborn to use public Wi-Fi? Some busy Londoners did just that in an experiment to show the need for education around security issues with Wi-Fi usage.
The experiment centered around a popular Wi-Fi spot that required people to "assign their first born child to us for the duration of eternity" when signing up. Six people agreed.
The Cyber Security Research Institute organized the event with backing from Europol and sponsorship from the security firm F-Secure, which won’t enforce the agreement, of course. Researchers also discovered that the mobile hotspot device revealed users' passwords, a vulnerability that would allow hackers to steal usernames and passwords for accounts holding sensitive information.
We like this study because it's a good opportunity to review some basic tips for safe public Wi-Fi usage. Keep hackers and data snoops out of your digital affairs by following these tips:
1. Turn off Wi-Fi whenever possible. When around untrusted hotspots, turn off Wi-Fi on your devices. Also be sure to delete old networks. This improves security on your devices by removing ways for hackers to access your data.
2. Keep antivirus and anti-malware software updated. Installing and regularly updating adequate security software on all electronic devices is a must. Review online references such as www.cnet.com or www.pcmag.com for detailed reviews of the most recent software packages available.
3. Use a secure network that employs encryption. Generally, networks that use encryption ask you for a password. The most common secure ones are Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and Wi-Fi Protect Access II (WPA2).
4. Send information through secure websites only. These websites—with "https" in the URL—will encrypt your information during transit, making it harder for snoops to steal your information. The "s" stands for secure.
5. Use different usernames and passwords for different sites. That way someone with access to one of your accounts won't have access to many of your accounts. Be sure to create strong passwords that use numbers, letters and special characters.
If you suspect your accounts have been compromised, contact one of your providers. Your insurer, bank, or credit union may provide you with LifeStages® Identity Management Services from CyberScout. Or call 1-888-682-5911 for more information.
Brian Huntley is sr. information security advisor for CyberScout Solutions.