Must. Have. Wi-Fi. Must. Have. Wi-Fi.

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner

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When it comes to Wi-Fi access, kids can make it seem an awful lot like a life or death issue. They sound like weary characters in a movie who have been crossing the dessert for days, exhausted, parched and only asking for one thing to survive…water, um, no – Wi-Fi.

For today’s youth, Wi-Fi is life and access to it has become such a necessity that an Internet meme added a Wi-Fi layer to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

But children are not alone in their reliance for pervasive Wi-Fi access, are they? Whether for work or recreation, we all need Wi-Fi and we need it now!

Our reliance on Wi-Fi was created because data access and usage charges for mobile devices via traditional cell phone providers was expensive. Only recently have many carriers begun offering unlimited data plans (even if they come with speed throttling after a specific amount of data is used, usually impacting only those that stream media such as movies on a daily basis).

Like individuals and families, businesses have the same monetary constraints associated with Wi-Fi access. The result is that we have all become accustomed to thoughtlessly gaining access to Wi-Fi in coffee shops, airports, stores, and other public locations – without hesitation and without consideration of security.

Criminals have long-recognized this as an opportunity and have not wasted any time in using our reliance on Wi-Fi for both our personal and business use to their advantage, exploiting the weaknesses inherent in wireless technologies and gaining access to our most valuable assets – our information.

It is trivial task for anyone, with proper the motivation, to learn how to setup a fake access point with a webpage that looks just like the hotspot you “think” you are connecting to. No doubt, you can recall the steps you take to gain access at a Wi-Fi hotspot…you either enter an email address or simply click an acknowledgement of terms of use. Once you are connected to the “wrong” Wi-Fi network (you wouldn’t know that, by the way), everything you send and receive can be intercepted. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other mischievous attacks that focus on Wi-Fi environments that we will not be covering here.

To be safe from this and other types of attacks, here are some actions you can take to protect your personal information and your company’s sensitive data when you are using a public Wi-Fi service.

  • Only connect to the official hotspot that is being offered in your location. Ask for the Wi-Fi network name so you know what the right one is.
  • Don’t connect to other networks that are available and open for use.
  • Once connected, launch a virtual private network (VPN) client or app. Using a VPN will help protect the data you are sending and receiving while connected. An example of a free VPN app for mobile devices (Android and iOS) is Opera VPN. For computers, Opera offers a free browser you can download with their VPN built into it (for both Windows and Mac).
  • Move off the public Wi-Fi and use your device or mobile data plan (unlimited plans keep getting cheaper and cheaper as the cell phone carriers battle for customers).
  • If you don’t use VPN, it is best to refrain from doing mobile banking, investing, or other important transactions via Wi-Fi.
  • Make sure you are running some type of anti-virus software on your computers (yes, Macs can get viruses too). Avast is one free option that runs on both operating systems if you are not already running similar software.
  • Remember that reminder you received to update your software on your computer and device? Make sure you install all those updates before connecting to public Wi-Fi.

So the next time you feel the insatiable desire to connect and feel like the free Wi-Fi you have found is like a mirage of cool, refreshing water after a walkabout on the dessert, stop, think and remember these important guidelines to keeping Wi-Fi safe.

 

 

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