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Europol: Public Wi-Fi danger to privacy, bank accounts

Posting in Technology
 
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Checking Facebook in Starbucks may seem commonplace and a safe activity, but there is a fact we often ignore: public Wi-Fi hotspots, by their very nature, are not secure.

You cannot trust free Wi-Fi providers to have security protocols in place that protect your data and applications from being compromised, and once connected, you place your mobile devices and laptops at risk. When lulled by brand names and public places offering Wi-Fi hotspots for free, sometimes too much trust is handed over -- and the European police agency Europol agree.

The head of Europol's cybercrime center, Troels Oerting, has tried to bring the lesson home to consumers by talking to BBC Click and warning that growing numbers of cyberattacks are now taking place through public networks.

Sensitive information should only be transferred across networks you control and trust -- and so conducting activities including checking your bank balance online and going through emails is best left for your home or business connections instead.

"We have seen an increase in the misuse of Wi-Fi, in order to steal information, identity or passwords and money from the users who use public or insecure Wi-Fi connections," he said.

Oerting said Europol has assisted a number of member states which have been the victim of cyberattacks taking place over free networks, and tricks include tapping in to connections -- becoming the "man in the middle" -- and duping users in to connecting to hotspots with similar names to those in cafes and pubs. 

Once connected, sensitive data such as bank details, card numbers sent across the Web when shopping and passwords for social media accounts are all in danger of being stolen.

While VPN connections are more secure, most free Wi-Fi hotspots have no such protection, placing both users and businesses at risk. Instead, although it may cost you money, cellular networks are more secure -- and could cost you less in the long run in comparison to your bank account being cleaned out or identity being stolen.

Read on: BBC

Image credit: Flickr

— By on March 10, 2014, 7:09 AM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure