Mobile Security

Secure Wi-Fi is important. But secure IoT is vital.

Gagan Singh, 7 March 2017

Using only secure Wi-Fi hotspots will keep you safe. Right? Not in the Internet of Things era, when every device connected to those network introduces risk.

After years of using hotspots, many of us who connect our PCs via Wi-Fi away from home have learned the difference between secured and unsecured networks – and are now smarter and safer when we get online at the café or airport. But our connection habits are changing. In 2016, average smartphone usage grew 38 percent, and more mobile phone traffic – nearly 60 percent – was handled by Wi-Fi hotspots than by cellular networks, putting our phones at risk, too. Add the proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and today’s Wi-Fi threats can outpace even the tech-savviest among us. Because we have greater mobility and connectivity, hackers are motivated to take advantage of our need for both.

In 2016 ... more mobile phone traffic – nearly 60 percent – was handled by Wi-Fi hotspots than by cellular networks.

Using only secure Wi-Fi hotspots is a good practice to implement, if you haven’t already. That free connection at your favorite coffee shop doesn’t require a password? Bad idea – it’s not secured. Anything you transmit via that connection is game for hackers. Sure, switching from cellular to Wi-Fi hotspots on your phone while you’re out may save you data. But you could be losing privacy and security in the process. In fact, you may want to ensure your mobile phone settings aren’t automatically connecting you to any available Wi-Fi network, so you can deliberately choose hotspots.

Every connected device is a potential threat

But being fastidious about using only secured Wi-Fi for mobile connections isn’t enough, anymore. Gartner predicts that by 2020 – only three years from now – more than 21 billion devices will be connected through the IoT. All those devices, as well as the mobile hotspots we all love to use, ultimately connect to routers. If those routers are vulnerable, which Avast data shows is true for more than 40% of users worldwide, then every device connected to the internet via that router can be identified by its type, brand, and software. In fact, in Spain alone (where Avast was last week for Mobile World Congress) millions of vulnerable devices are internet-connected. So just think – what if your phone is also connected to the network these vulnerable devices share? All you have to do is connect the dots, which is what hackers do best. They need only one weak spot to gain access to an entire web of devices and personal information.

If ... routers are vulnerable, which Avast data shows is true for more than 40% of users worldwide, then every device connected to the internet via that router can be identified by its type, brand, and software.

There’s no place like home … for hackers

It makes sense that Wi-Fi networks “out there” may not be safe, and that the more devices they connect, the greater threat they pose. But your home network may be just as dangerous. Hackers can see not only your smart refrigerator’s make and software version, but also its IP address, meaning they can identify approximately where devices are, leading them right to your virtual (or real) front door.

In fact, we’ve seen an uptick in recent months of the number of attacks by large-scale botnets exploiting devices connected to unsecured routers. Manipulating webcams, appliances, even children’s toys, to spy on users, steal information, or use the device as a cyber-weapon in a larger attack is easier than ever.

Is it even possible to connect safely anymore?

Yes. It is. You need help to do it, though, which fortunately is out there. It can pay to educate yourself about networks, especially those in your home. Understanding mobile app security risks is key, as well as knowing when and when not to trust an app, even if it’s from a trusted institution, such as your bank.

We at Avast have just announced a new Wi-Fi Finder feature, available to Android users this summer, to help you evaluate the security of all Wi-Fi networks, your own or those you encounter on the move. Avast Wi-Fi Finder soon will not only find the fastest and safest Wi-Fi hotspots, it will identify all devices on those networks, evaluating router security and revealing connected device vulnerabilities. If you’re on your home network, Wi-Fi Finder will guide you through fixing these flaws, by for instance setting up a stronger password, to secure the network and related devices. It will also tell you if unauthorized devices are using your network, creating security breaches.  

Avast Wi-Fi Finder soon will not only find the fastest and safest Wi-Fi hotspots, it will identify all devices on those networks, evaluating router security and revealing connected device vulnerabilities.

Soon the same Wi-Fi inspection technology that keeps PCs safe will now be available to Android users, too, to keep pace with the mobile lives we lead. Because being connected is practically indispensable these days, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice its benefits and conveniences in order to maintain your privacy, security, and safety. And we’re here to make sure you don’t.

Image: Rodion Kutsaev

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