Hacked at a Hotspot in Less Than 600 Seconds

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It was a typical day online for Erika. In April, the 25-year-old nurse from upstate New York decided to use her new iPhone to sell an old phone and an old BlackBerry on eBay.  For convenience, the Wifi veteran had her iPhone set to automatically connect to whatever Wifi networks were in range.

But in less than 10 minutes on public Wifi, Erika’s plan to make a little extra money online turned into a money losing proposition. When she logged into Paypal, Erica was shocked to see that two fraudulent charges in women’s names – one for $184 and $174 – had been deducted from her account. “Someone must have hacked my password,” Erika says. “I’d accessed PayPal a lot using Wifi.  But I never thought about it until now.”

Minutes after she realized what happened, Erika contacted her bank to stop the funds from being deducted from her account. “I had to call and make a big deal of it, she recalls.  “It was such a hassle.” Then Erika had to change her PayPal password and account settings.

Last fall in Northern Virginia, a 40-year-old small business owner named Ashleigh was waiting for an email to confirm an appointment.  But when the electricity at her home went out, Ashleigh decided to drive to a local coffee shop to check her email. Ashleigh says she knew the risk at hotspots:  “But I was only on it for 10 minutes.”  It wasn’t until much later in the day that she got concerned enough to show her husband random emails that had been sent from her own email address.  “I’m not the technology savvy one in my household,” says Ashleigh.  When her husband saw the evidence, he confirmed that she’d been hacked at the public Wifi hotspot.

“It’s scary to think someone can get access to your information so quickly,” Ashleigh says now. Because she had accessed her bank account online, the small business owner had to update all of her accounts and change all her passwords.  “If I didn’t have my husband, I wouldn’t have known what happened, where it happened and what to do to fix it,” says Ashleigh. “It’s a nuisance to recover.”

Both Ashleigh and Erika didn’t realize until it was too late that online privacy is an oxymoron at public Wifi hotspots.  But they were fortunate to have discovered right away that their accounts had been hacked.  That enabled them to act quickly to minimize the damage.  Legions of other hotspot users haven’t been so lucky.  They’ve had their identities stolen and their financial accounts emptied long before they realized they’d been hacked at a hotspot.

Remember, the only sure fire way to protect your online privacy at Wifi hotspots is to use a secure VPN like PRIVATE Wifi™. Virtual private networks encrypt the information travelling to and from your computer.  That means it’s invisible to hackers so you can remain anonymous.

 

 

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Jan Legnitto

Jan Legnitto is an investigative journalist and documentary producer who writes about criminal justice and intelligence issues. Jan is also a frequent contributor to the Private I blogs.