While traveling to third-world countries, you often hear travel warnings and advisories about local violence, contaminated water, food poisoning, smugglers, civil wars and dangers. But you don’t really have to travel that far to put yourself at risk. I just took a trip to the South Eastern part of the USA and purposely put myself at risk at a large national hotel chain. And NO, I was not attacked by cockroaches, my room was not dirty, and the door locks worked just fine. However, the hotel put me in tech travel danger with its rotten, poisoned wireless network.
Most business travellers, as soon as they into their room, their first step is to connect to the wireless network to do some work, check email and maybe stream something on Netflix. But I’m a bit different…I like to test the security on computer networks. (We all have our odd habits!) So that’s what I did on this recent trip.
On the wall there was a nice framed paper with name of hotel’s wireless network information. The network name was “GUEST.” And there was no password to connect to the WiFi network.
If you connect to an open Guest network like this, you would be putting yourself in danger almost as bad as hopping the fence at an alligator exhibit at the zoo.
Why is this so dangerous?
Your home or office WiFi is (or should be!) both private and encrypted. That means that credentials are required to log into the network itself, and once you are logged in, your traffic over the wireless part of the network is encrypted. On a public network, such as the one at this upscale hotel, the WiFi was neither private nor encrypted. That’s some serious tech travel danger waiting to happen.
And that means that just about anyone with the right sniffing software can quite literally see the traffic that flows from your keyboard and screen across the open airwaves. And that means any photos you view, any passwords you type, or any confidential information you read can be seen by someone else.
And that’s scary.
The hotel did eventually ask for a password, but only after I was connected to the network. The router asked me to identify myself, but that’s mostly for billing purposes, not at all for security.
What’s also scary with unsecured WiFi networks is that your passwords can be hijacked, as can access to your laptop or phone. That means that malware can be installed, putting your entire business and identity at risk.
So what can you do about it? Here are a few tips.
- If the network is not encrypted, don’t connect at all!
- Bring your own WiFi with you. Whether you use your hotspot on your phone or a separate device, having your own portable WiFi with a strong password and encryption is well worth the cost of the device and usage fees.
- If you do connect to a public, encrypted network (wired or wireless), do make sure that you have a software firewall enabled on your computer or mobile device.
- When connecting to any public WiFi, even if it’s secure, instantly turn on a VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN encrypts and hides your traffic from your device all the way to a remote server somewhere else, often in another city, where it then goes out over the Internet. The information is essentially in a very secure “pipe” that other people can’t look into.
- If you can avoid visiting unprotected, non-HTTPS websites, do it. You’re much safer with the encrypted communication that that little green lock in your browser gives you over a site that isn’t encrypted.
If your laptop gets infected with malware while you’re away, imagine what happens when you get back to your office. Your infected laptop re-joins your otherwise-secure network, and you end up sabotaging your own network and putting your entire company at risk.
We’re all about providing big-business protection on a small business budget, so if you’d like some additional, more personalized advice for your own situation, feel free to contact us here at Digital Uppercut. We even have solutions to prevent an infected device that you bring into your office from infecting the rest of your network. Call or contact us today, and let’s talk more.