Shopping at WiFi Hotspots Could Lead to a Not-So-Merry Mobile Christmas

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shopping on WiFiIt’s official. Cyber Monday became the biggest online shopping day in history, racking up a record $2.29 billion in online sales, according to data from Adobe Digital Index. Smartphone and tablet owners accounted for $419 million in sales – an 80% increase over 2012.

It’s clear that consumers love the convenience of shopping on public WiFi hotspots. But the bad news is cyber grinches love shopping on hotspots, too – for consumers’ sensitive information.

And if 2013 is any indication, they’ll continue to make out like bandits. More than a quarter of consumers reported being a victim of online or mobile fraud, according to a Con­sumer Mobile Insights study by Jumio, Inc. con­ducted by Harris Inter­ac­tive® earlier this year. When it comes to the risk of becoming a cybercrime victim, those are pretty terrible odds.

Holiday shoppers hunting for online bargains simply aren’t prepared for the high volume of cyber attacks being launched against their mobile devices. Since public hotspots are inherently unsecure, hackers can easily grab mobile shoppers’ passwords and account information and go on shopping sprees of their own – with their victims’ money.

Travelers doing last-minute holiday shopping at hotspots are especially vulnerable. Every time they log into public WiFi – at an airport, train station, hotel, or restaurant – they risk giving hackers the best holiday present ever – their identity and their credit.

VPN Time: Other Security Software Won’t Protect Your Privacy At WiFi Hotspots

Many mobile shoppers still believe anti­virus and anti­malware software protects their online privacy at WiFi hotspots. But they’re wrong. Only a personal VPN that sends your information through a secure tunnel makes it invisible to hackers. Yet in a November 2013 survey conducted by PRIVATE WiFi and the Identity Theft Resource Center, more than three out of every four respondents said they don’t use a VPN even though they should.

Whenever you’re shopping on public WiFi networks, it’s safe to assume you’re not alone. Over 12 1/2 million consumers became victims of identity fraud last year – one every three seconds. Make sure you don’t become one of them this holiday season by taking the following steps:

  • Install firewall and anti­malware apps on your mobile devices and promptly install app and OS updates.
  • Use complex passwords composed of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols and different passwords for each site. Make sure to uncheck the box that automatically saves them.
  • Check before you connect to any hotspots with strange names. Ask the establishment for the name of its hotspot. Watch out for unusual variations in the logo or name of the establishment displayed on the login page. That could be a sign it’s a fake hotspot designed to steal your data.
  • Don’t connect to any network name displayed with two little computer symbols. That means you’d be connecting directly to someone else’s computer, not a legitimate WiFi hotspot. There’s no way to tell whether it’s safe.
  • Disable features that automatically connect your device to any available network. This will prevent you from accidentally connecting to a fake WiFi hotspot or a stranger’s computer.
  • Disable printer and file sharing options when you’re at a hotspot.
  • Avoid logging in to websites that don’t have secure login pages, indicated by the padlock in your browser and HTTPS in the URL. But remember, an encrypted website only protects the information sent to and from that site. It doesn’t protect all the information transmitted over a public WiFi hotspot. Even worse, hackers have exploited some vulnerabilities in HTTPS. It’s far from foolproof.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends using a VPN like PRIVATE WiFi to encrypt your information at WiFi hotspots. Give yourself the gift of online security this holiday season by becoming invisible at WiFi hotspots.

Get Private Wifi   Protect your personal information.
Get DataCompress   Cut your mobile data usage.

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.