When you visit your local library to do online research or surf the Net, the last thing you’re likely to be worried about is becoming a victim of Wifi crime. But that false sense of security could end up compromising your online privacy. The fact is, even though it might feel safe, your library’s public Wifi network isn’t any more secure than those at hotels, coffee shops or airports. Library hotspots are hotbeds for hackers who can easily access your sensitive information and commit a wide variety of financial and sexual crimes.
How Easy It Is to Play “I Spy” on Your Library’s Public Wifi
Tech blogger Bill Mullins found that out when he logged on to his local library’s hotspot this year. Mullins’ browser immediately warned him about a possible fraudulent certificate – a sign of a man-in-the-middle attack designed to spy on traffic between the Wifi user and the website. (http://billmullins.wordpress.com/2012/07/18)
Mullins believed the average Wifi user wouldn’t be aware of the dangers of fake certificates and would ignore the warning. So he contacted the library’s chief tech officer who didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. That led Mullins to one inescapable conclusion: No other library Wifi user had brought the fake certificate threat to the tech department’s attention. In other words, legions of users could be unknowingly exposing their confidential information to hackers every time they log on to the library’s public Wifi network. What’s more, stories like these prove that library Wifi hacking isn’t a rare occurrence.
“A friend of mine was using free wireless at the library and a script kiddie placed a user account on his laptop and messed up his whole machine.” (http://janderson99.hubpages/hub/QA)
“My young adult daughter does not have a PC at home and went to her local library to get online and post Facebook messages. My brother used a laptop computer. Both of their email addresses have been hacked and I now get spam from these scum artists who stole both.” (http://hardforum.com/showthread.php?t=1422748)
Library WiFi Hotspots Used to Download Child Pornography
Those Wifi crimes are far from the worst ones committed using public library hotspots. In 2011, The Grand Rapids Press reported that 43-year-old Alan Waldron was sentenced to six months in jail for using the Wifi connection at a library in Lowell, Massachusetts to download more than 100 images of pornography – including pictures of sexual acts between young children. Waldron bragged on Facebook about how easy it was to pick up the library’s wireless signal from his home several blocks away
“Finally… Hacked a protected access point for 24 Hr. Internet Access FREE. Like to download my movies and such while I sleep. All good now! WOOT! Free information should be free anyway!! I have no regrets or conscience about it at all!”
After that, federal investigators began looking into Waldron’s activities.
According to The Grand Rapids Press, at his sentencing, the sex offender said he was remorseful. But Judge James Robert Redford told him that people shouldn’t have to worry about bringing children to places like the library. Unfortunately, because of people like Waldron, he said they have to be vigilant.
Wifi crimes are being committed on with alarming frequency at library hotspots because it’s nearly impossible to monitor how they’re being used. That’s why the Federal Trade Commission offers this advice to protect yourself:
The FTC recommends using a virtual private network (VPN) whenever you log on to a Wifi hotspot. VPNs like PRIVATE Wifi™ encrypt the traffic between your computer and the Internet. That makes it invisible to hackers. So you’re protected.