In today’s connected world, almost everyone has at least one internet-connected device. With the number of these devices on the rise, it is important to implement a security strategy to minimize their potential for exploitation. Internet-connected devices may be used by nefarious entities to collect personal information, steal identities, compromise financial data, and silently listen to—or watch—users. Taking a few precautions in the configuration and use of your devices can help prevent this type of activity.
Whether it’s a home or business network, the risks to an unsecured wireless network are the same. Some of the risks include:
If you fail to secure your wireless network, anyone with a wireless-enabled computer in range of your access point can use your connection. The typical indoor broadcast range of an access point is 50–100 meters. Outdoors, this range may extend as far as 300 meters.
So, due to the proximity of other potentially unauthorised users, failure to secure your wireless network could open your internet connection to many unintended users. These users may be able to conduct illegal activity, monitor and capture your web traffic, or steal personal files.
Wardriving is a specific kind of piggybacking. The broadcast range of a wireless access point can make internet connections available outside your home, even as far away as your street. Savvy computer users know this, and some have made a hobby out of driving through cities and neighbourhoods with a wireless-equipped computer —sometimes with a powerful antenna —searching for unsecured wireless networks. This practice is known as “wardriving.”
In an evil twin attack, an adversary gathers information about a public network access point, then sets up their system to impersonate it. The adversary uses a broadcast signal stronger than the one generated by the legitimate access point; then, unsuspecting users connect using the stronger signal. Because the victim is connecting to the internet through the attacker’s system, it’s easy for the attacker to use specialised tools to read any data the victim sends over the internet. This data may include credit card numbers, username and password combinations, and other personal information. Always confirm the name and password of a Wi-Fi hotspot prior to use. This will ensure you are connecting to a trusted access point.
Many public access points are not secured and the traffic they carry is not encrypted. This can put your sensitive communications or transactions at risk. Because your connection is being transmitted “in the clear,” malicious actors could use sniffing tools to obtain sensitive information such as passwords or credit card numbers. Ensure that all the access points you connect to use at least WPA2 encryption.
An unsecured public wireless network combined with unsecured file sharing could allow a malicious user to access any directories and files you have unintentionally made available for sharing. Ensure that when you connect your devices to public networks, you deny sharing files and folders. Only allow sharing on recognised networks and only while it is necessary to share items. When not needed, ensure that file sharing is disabled. This will help prevent an unknown attacker from accessing your device’s files.
In public areas malicious actors can simply glance over your shoulder as you type. By simply watching you, they can steal sensitive or personal information. Screen protectors that prevent shoulder-surfers from seeing your device screen can be purchased for little money. For smaller devices, such as phones, be cognisant of your surroundings while viewing sensitive information or entering passwords.
Not all attackers rely on gaining access to your data via wireless means. By physically stealing your device, attackers could have unrestricted access to all of its data, as well as any connected cloud accounts. Taking measures to protect your devices from loss or theft is important, but should the worst happen, a little preparation may protect the data inside. Most mobile devices, including laptop computers, now have the ability to fully encrypt their stored data —making devices useless to attackers who cannot provide the proper password or personal identification number (PIN). In addition to encrypting device content, it is also advisable to configure your device’s applications to request login information before allowing access to any cloud-based information. Last, individually encrypt or password-protect files that contain personal or sensitive information. This will afford yet another layer of protection in the event an attacker is able to gain access to your device.