The Dangers of Free WiFi Hotspots

By: Ernesto Fuller, Network Security Engineer

It is indisputable that technology is moving at a fast pace. Your personal phones and computers went from being attached to your home to being portable. They come in different shapes and sizes. However, we all know it doesn’t stop at the hardware level. We have become desensitized to a certain degree with software and code that run on our devices. We overlook potential threats and give the benefit of the doubt far too easily at things we use on all our devices.

Think of it this way, when and if you travel by plane the TSA officer asks you if you yourself have packed everything in your bag and if the bag has been with you at all times. Rhetorical question: Why is the officer asking you this? What about your computer, your cell phone, or your tablet? Were you there when it was built? Did anyone put anything in it they were not supposed to? Now think of that cool app you just installed. Do you know who wrote it, did they include anything in it they should not have?

We get used to inherently trusting lots of things. Trust nowadays is lost so easily. Look at what has happened concerning I.T. threats to places like Target, Home Depot, and Yahoo. No one is safe and the people you trust are not always safe.

So what options do you have? Here are some things that you can do to try to minimize avenues of compromise.

  • You can adopt the Zero trust model in your life everywhere you can. This sounds difficult and you will sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist when talking about it, but you know what? It’s worth it! The harder it is for people to get to your stuff, the faster they move on to another victim. “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Unless you are a target like a Government employee, Executive at a company, Banker…etc, but that’s another story.

  • Use 2-Factor Authentication for all your accounts that you can

  1. Emails (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail)

  2. Online Services (Dropbox, AWS, Azure, Password Managers)

  3. Basically, anything that offers 2FA (Two-Factor Authentication)

  • Also, consider encrypting your files and backing them up in more than one place.

  • Don’t trust all apps and software. Research the app and the source of download.

  • Never use Free Wi-Fi, but if you must, use a full tunnel VPN service. There are many free ones out there, but pay service is better for a reason. Do your research on which one works for you. If you have the right equipment at home and the know how you know can configure the VPN to connect to your router back at home. Many commercial routers allow you to VPN into them from your most of you devices as well.

  • Change your passwords often. How often is up to you, but not changing them often enough makes the bad guys happy.

  • Don’t click on anything you get in an email. You often hear horror stories about people opening a file of clicking a link and then they are hit with something nasty. If you do get hit, this is where you need to restore from backups and hopefully, the backup is clean.

  • Last but not least. When at home, I highly recommend using a router that allows you to configure a guest network. You decide how you wish to split the network. This is to protect the devices that are a little more sensitive. For instance, if you wish to not mix the kid’s devices that could easily fall victim to malware and infect or attack everyone else on that side of the network. Newer routers allow you to block the guest network from the main Wi-Fi devices. It’s not foolproof, but it’s something, which is better than nothing.

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