Think your Wi-Fi connection is secure? Think again. Whether at home or in public, the connection may leave a window open for nefarious actors to climb inside your digital life. In the third of four articles for National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (October), FTI’s cybersecurity team presents essential best practices for protecting your wireless connection.
i-Fi hotspots are everywhere: at your local coffee shop and library, at airports, hotels, malls and restaurants. Quite often they’re free and require no password to access, making the convenience of connecting on-the-go almost irresistible. But fair warning: That convenience also creates opportunities for seasoned hackers and inexperienced malicious actors alike to tap into your device without your even knowing it. Once inside, they can harvest all kinds of information. Here’s how to protect yourself while Wi-Fi connected when you’re out and about and at home.
The first thing to know is that data that travels back and forth between personal devices is not secure when connected to a Wi-Fi network, even one with a strong password. That’s because sent and received data is usually not encrypted in transit and can be discovered by anyone else who is connected to the same network.
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• Use a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN is an encrypted connection from your device to a Wi-Fi network. There are several easy-to-install VPNs that are free or have a very low subscription fee. Either way, they provide an additional layer of security and can protect your online anonymity from snooping.
• Double-check a site’s name. Hackers sometimes set up similar-sounding site names as part of a “man-in-the-middle” attack designed to attract unsuspecting or inattentive users. That’s why you should navigate only to networks whose names you recognize.
• Only visit secure websites. These have the designation “https” at the beginning of the site’s address. (The “s” stands for “secure” and indicates that the page’s owner has obtained an “SSL Certificate,” which ensures a secure session with a web browser.) If you’re not sure if a page or site is secure, navigate to your device’s account settings and look for a section on security. Find the setting labeled “Always use https” or “Always use secure connection” and check that box.
• Disable file sharing. When enabled, file sharing allows others who have used the same network as you to access your data. You’ll find the “disable” option in your device’s control panel.
• Remove old Wi-Fi networks.* Only keep trusted and relevant Wi-Fi networks as options on your mobile device to prevent automatic connections to old, and potentially malicious, networks.
Many homeowners are unaware of significant security gaps that exist while running their own wireless networks. For instance, malicious actors with an antenna sensitive enough to pick up radio signals can eavesdrop on Wi-Fi traffic. This could be a neighbor, a person in a nearby business or even a parked car.
• Update the password.* When your Wi-Fi router was first installed, it came with a default administrator password and username from the company that owns or manufactured it. Change both the password and username to tighten security.
• Create a strong password. (See our article “Secure Your Data By Tightening Your Weakest Links” for guidance.)
• Change the default IP address.* This is the unique identifier for your router set by the manufacturer. Changing it yourself adds a third layer of protection from attackers who try to crack your defenses by guessing or stealing your username and password.
• Enable WPA2.* The latest encryption protocol, “Wi-Fi Protected Access 2,” updates the older version, WEP or WPA. But you don’t need to know the technical details. You just need to make sure you’re running WPA2.
• Update firmware.* Just like you update the operating system for your phone to add new features and improve security, the same applies to your router.
* Consult your device’s operating manual for guidance.