Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Internet security, esp. at public wi-fi hotspots

If you use public wi-fi networks at places like coffee shops, libraries, or airports, beware... it's gotten a lot more dangerous out there.

I wish I had read this article sooner, because I think I've been snared by this hack before: wi-fi "evil twins." Basically, these are fake, "free" internet hotspots set up in locations where you expect to find service, like airports. And in connecting to them you may be giving someone access to your online or financial identity.

And since being released on the net last fall, a new tool called Firesheep has been downloaded heavily all around the world. Once installed on a hacker's system, it allows them to steal your logon credentials to sites like Facebook when you access them via public wi-fi locations.

Either of these methods may be in use by that cute college kid sitting two seats away from you...

To protect yourself:
  • confirm that the SSID of the wireless network you are connecting to is the right one (this means ask someone who should know if it's not posted!)
  • log on to websites with https (rather than http) whenever it's supported (I'm switching from Yahoo! Mail to Gmail because the latter supports https as the default; it's not an option with Yahoo!)
  • and to be completely safe, subscribe to a virtual private network (VPN) service; three are reviewed here (I use HotSpotVPN)

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