Seven Wifi Myths We Live and Die By

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Have you ever been made to look like a fool because you fell for an urban legend? You know, that’s a story of unknown origin with little or no supporting evidence that spreads like wild fire, gathering momentum as it’s passed from one gullible person to another.

When it comes to wifi security, those pesky myths about how to protect ourselves from hackers are spreading faster than we can connect to the wireless web. Falling for any of them can put us in danger by creating a false sense of security – making us believe wireless networks are safe from hackers when they’re not. So let’s put these wifi legends to rest once and for all.

Myth #1:  WEP (Wired Equivalency Privacy) is safe to use in the privacy of my home.

Not by a long shot. WEP was invented in the old millennium; and hackers have come a long way since then. WEP is so easy to crack, a ten year old can do it. It takes more experienced hackers a matter of seconds. That’s why WPA (Wifi Protected Access) and WPA2-Personal were invented.

Myth #2:  If I use WPA or WPA2-Personal, my wireless network will be safe from hackers.

That’s a great first step. But even when you’re using WPA, a weak passphrase can be the Achilles heel of your wireless security. So it’s critical to create a strong passphrase (PSK) and only share it with people you trust. Passphrases should be a combination of eight to twenty letters, numbers and characters that are easy for you to remember, but difficult for hackers to guess or crack using brute force attacks.

Myth #3:  Disabling SSID broadcast hides my wireless network from hackers and war drivers.

Sorry, SSID suppression simply doesn’t work. Hackers can use free tools from the Internet to defeat SSID suppression faster than you can check your email.

Myth #4:  If I can’t connect to my wireless network from a parking lot, hackers can’t either.

Wouldn’t it be great if this were true? But it’s not. If your laptop and your wireless adapter are both turned on, hackers using strong antennas  and other powerful equipment can easily find you. They can also use public spaces inside buildings such as bathrooms and meeting rooms.

Myth #5:  If you use Ethernet in your hotel room, it’s safer than using wifi in the lobby.

So now you’re trying to outsmart hackers by using outdated technology? That won’t work either. Users connected to the same public network can browse each other’s fileshares and attack each other. It doesn’t matter whether they’re connected using Ethernet or wifi.

Myth #6:  If I use a commercial wifi hotspot where I pay a fee, I’m safer than if I use a free wifi hotspot.

Unfortunately, commercial hotspots are usually unencrypted, just like free public hotspots. Don’t equate paid access to the Internet with safety.

Myth #7:  If I use a firewall and have up to date antivirus protection, I’m safe from hackers at public hotspots.

Antivirus software and personal firewalls can protect your computer from viruses. But you also need to defend your laptop from malicious users connected to the same network. Do that by disabling file sharing and watching out for Evil Twins.

That’s not all. Firewalls and virus protection can’t protect the information sent and received over the wireless network. When you’re using public wifi hotspots, Internet privacy protection isn’t part of the package. That’s why you need a VPN (virtual private network) like PRIVATE WiFi™ to ensure that your online data is invisible to hackers.

If you were taken in by a wifi myth we haven’t mentioned, give us a shout. We’d like to hear how you discovered it was too good to be true.

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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.