Who knew there was danger all around us? But every time you connect to an unsecured Wi-Fi network, you are putting your private life out there for the taking. That’s because unsecured networks can expose you to a hacker who can easily read your messages, steal your logins, passwords, and credit card details.
Right about now, you probably have a picture in your mind of an anonymous hoodie-wearing young anarchist tapping away at a keyboard in a darkened room littered with empty cans of Mountain Dew. Guys, this is not an episode of Mr Robot - it’s a real threat, and it doesn’t take a hacker from central casting to attack you.
Fake hotspots fooled everyone
A group of non-hoodie wearing mobile security researchers from Avast Software set out to prove how easy it really is to see people’s personal information. They set up an experiment in San Francisco – a digitally progressive town, wouldn’t you say? – to see how many people would connect to a free Wi-Fi. They created fake Wi-Fi networks and called them familiar names like Xfinity, Google Starbucks, and Starbucks. Starbucks is one of the most widespread networks, so it's pretty easy to get people's devices to connect to it. Within seven hours, 264 people connected to the fake Wi-Fi networks and generated 512,000 data packets.
How could this happen?
The problem is once your device connects to a known SSID name at your favorite cafe, the next time you visit, it will automatically try to connect to a network with the same name. This common occurrence becomes a problem because it can be misused by a hacker. Armed with some basic information, a hacker can figure out what you are doing and even which device you have. After a day of walking around with a tablet, our researchers gathered some telling statistics.
- 52% connected from an Apple device
- 42% connected from an Android device
- 10% connected from a tablet or notebook
Big deal, you say? Anybody can see what kind of device I am holding. But wait! There’s more! Our snoopers found out that
- 70% of them have the Facebook app installed
- 30% of them have the Twitter app installed
- 30% of them accessed a Google-related service
- 20% browsed a webpage
It’s not a big stretch to dig a little deeper and steal contacts, photos, emails, and user names and passwords (but the researchers stopped just short of that so they wouldn’t get arrested). And because we all use the same stupid passwords on all our apps from social time sucks to our bank accounts, the hooded villain now has possession of your login credentials and can potentially steal more than data. If you didn’t get the dramatic insinuation there, I’ll be clear – a hacker can steal your money and identity – all from a quick connection to a free Wi-Fi hotspot.
OK, then. How do I protect myself when I use free Wi-Fi?
To avoid the potential of a snoop stealing your private information, you basically have two choices: Stop using unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots or make sure you always have a secure connection by using a VPN (virtual private network) app, like Avast SecureLine VPN.
A VPN sounds extremely techie, and it is, under the hood, but it’s easy-as-pie for us regular people. Avast mobile security developers created SecureLine to give you a secure and reliable private connection for your data between computer networks over the Internet. Your outgoing and incoming data is encrypted and it travels in its own private “tunnel” and is decrypted at the other end.
Avast SecureLine VPN for Android, available on Google Play, and in the Apple App Store for iOS devices, encrypts connections on unsecured public Wi-Fi and allows you to browse anonymously. The app also lets you choose the server location you would like to connect with, so you can watch or listen to restricted content from your home country when traveling.
Unless you’re Jason Bourne, living dangerously shouldn’t include losing your identity, so get a VPN for your mobile devices. You can go back to the Wild Side when you log on to Tinder.