WiFi Hotspots a Security Threat: How to Protect Yourself

virtual private networkArticle first published as WiFi Hotspots Still Pose a Security Threat - What You Can Do on Technorati.

Earlier this month, PC World predicted what would be some of the biggest security threats in 2012. One of those, targeting mobile devices, is the vulnerability of WiFi hotspots. It's surprisingly easy for hackers to eavesdrop, or even create a fake hotspot, to lure unsuspecting users into their trap.

Smartphone users may not realize it, but they are storing a lot of personal data in their phones and transmitting that same data across wireless networks. All that information: names, dates of birth, credit card numbers, banking PINs, is just a treasure trove for cybercriminals who’d love to get at it through the many unsecure WiFi networks people are using on a daily basis. Compounding this treasure trove is the fact that many smartphone users are unaware that their phones are storing all this information, meaning that even losing the phone can spell trouble for your identity and credit reports.
Although a recent Experian survey found that only 30 percent of smartphone users take advantage of public WiFi hotspots, which tend to be unsecured, the survey also found that half of smartphone users are completely unaware of this problem. Now, imagine if that smartphone is your employee using a company smartphone, sending a confidential email or making a purchase on the phone using a company credit card. An electronic eavesdropper who gets a hold of that information can cause serious problems for both your employee, and your company.
With the number of smartphone users expected to exceed one billion by 2014, cybercrimes against smartphones could turn into a lucrative business for criminals unless users and businesses do something about it. A typical password can be breached in five seconds, with 37 percent of smartphone users thinking that a password is all that’s needed for a network to be secure. What’s even more troubling about this is that some of the most common passwords are some of the easiest for criminals to break. Some of these common passwords are ‘123456’, ‘iloveyou’, ‘password’, and ‘abc123’. No wonder 65 percent of people worldwide have been a victim of a cybercrime! How can passwords like that be considered secure?
One way to protect your business and your employees from those unsecure WiFi hotspots is to set a personal network of your own. Called a virtual private network, or a VPN, this network is a centralized telecommunications infrastructure that requires users to be authenticated and data to be encrypted. A VPN is much more secure than a typical public WiFi network because fewer people are using your specific VPN, and even if someone does get unauthorized entry, that person will not be able to read the data because it is encrypted. A VPN also provides the same convenience of remote connection to the Internet as a public WiFi network. If interested in setting up a VPN, a good one to try is vpn4all.com, which is a popular vpn that seems to be easy to use and is available for computers, mobile and tablets.
The biggest danger in all of this is that many smartphone users don’t see any danger in using a public WiFi network. It is important to educate your employees about those dangers, but an even better way is to open up a VPN for your employees to use when conducting business on their phones. This way, business don’t have to worry about the strength of the passwords, or where employees are using their phones, or what kind of data employees are storing on their phones. All Internet activities can be done securely on a VPN.