When It Comes To WiFi, Why Don’t We Ever Learn?

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By all indications, our basic human drives – hunger, thirst, sleep and sex – may soon be eclipsed by our overwhelming need to connect to WiFi. Last year, 30% of respondents to a survey by the broadband and wireless semiconductor company Broadcom admitted they can’t go without WiFi access for more than an hour. A clear majority – 60% – said they can’t live without WiFi for more than a day. WiFi connections are more important than staying awake for 39% of respondents.

They would give up coffee for the ability to connect. Even more of those who responded would forsake Twitter (57%) and Facebook (50%) for a month for WiFi connectivity.

Unfortunately, our growing dependence on WiFi often trumps our need for online privacy – which is why WiFi is costing us plenty. In 2012, as total WiFi usage more than doubled, identity theft and data breaches reached record highs.

The 2012 Public WiFi Usage Survey conducted by the Identity Theft Resource Center with Private WiFi found that 79% of respondents believe using a free WiFi connection can lead to identity theft. But that fear didn’t stop them from using public WiFi: 75% of those surveyed used restaurant and coffee shop hotspots; over half used hotel WiFi; and about 40% connected at airports.

Hopefully taking a long hard look at our worst WiFi transgressions will put us on the right path to connecting safely – at hotspots and at home.

1) Using BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and BYON (Bring Your Own Network) to connect to company networks via hotspots caused an exponential increase in attack vectors. The ITRC/Private WiFi survey found that 57% of respondents admitted to accessing confidential workrelated information while using a public hotspot. Do you really want to explain to your boss that you exposed your company’s sensitive information to hackers while downing a latte at the local java joint? In some companies, that’s grounds for termination.

2) Assuming that your broadband provider or Internet firewall/router meets all of your security needs – that your firewall/router keeps away outsiders connected to the Internet. It doesn’t stop anyone in or near your home from connecting to your network unless you tell it to by enabling WPA2. Yet incredibly, Wigle’s 2012 worldwide crowdsourced data indicates that only 30% of home WiFi users connected with WPA2, while 11% used WPA. What’s even more shocking – 25% still connected using WEP, a technology that has been obsolete for years and can be hacked in less than a minute.

3) Using Wi-Fi Protected Setup to configure your secure home WiFi network. It sounds like a good idea. But it turns out that lots of products do WPS badly.

4) Allowing your mobile devices to connect to any WiFi network without knowing what you’re connecting to – otherwise known as dial-a-hacker. It’s a lot like wearing a blindfold and handing over your wallet to whoever can grab it first.

5) Intentionally leaving your home WiFi network open for people to borrow or charging them a fee to use it. Lending your neighbor a cup of WiFi isn’t safe. It’s crazy. How could you possibly know what someone else is doing on your wireless network? And by the way, it violates your ISP’s terms of service.

6) Thinking that WiFi security is like airport security: Once you get past the security checkpoint, you’re protected. Hey, hackers aren’t terrorists. They aren’t going to get caught with explosives in their shoes. They get in and out of airports just like the rest of us. Once that happens, they can eavesdrop on your Internet traffic within 300 feet of any hotspot. And they almost never get caught.

7) Thinking that your SME is too small to be on hackers’ radar when your company’s lack of strong security is precisely what makes it an attractive target. One study found that 80% of SMEs went bankrupt or suffered serious financial consequences within six months of experiencing a data breach.

8) Assuming that widespread website use of SSL/TLS makes all WiFi hotspots secure. The fact that lots of people are safe drivers doesn’t make a highway entirely safe. Even safe drivers make mistakes.

9) Connecting unprotected. Like unprotected sex, you might have a good time while you’re doing it, but you could end up paying for it later. The Public WiFi Usage Survey found that only 27% of those who connect to hotspots use a VPN. It’s the only way to protect your sensitive information.

10) Failing to recognize the telltale signs of a WiFi hack can do even more damage. Changes in your device settings, your security software being disabled, your computer slowing down or seeming to have a life of its own and being shut out of your own accounts. They’re all warning signs to watch out for when you’re on WiFi. So think before you connect.

If you have your own favorite WiFi high crimes, drop us a line.

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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.