If you use free Wi-Fi in coffee shops or internet cafes to check your email, do some research or update your Facebook page, there are a couple of security issues you need to be aware of.
Free Wi-Fi hotspots are vulnerable to so-called ‘channelling’ attackers - hackers who establish unauthorised access points alongside legitimate Wi-Fi services to steal user names and passwords. To protect yourself when using public Wi-Fi take the following steps:
- Disable your wireless card if you’re not planning to connect to prevent intruders and preserve battery life.
- Before connecting, check for a sign that the network name you’re planning to use has Secure Server Identification (SSID).
- Be wary of sharing information in public locations. Hackers can use your webmail log-ins and passwords to access more sensitive information if you have the same password or a variation for all your online activities.
- Disable shared folders to prevent the installation of spyware from a malicious network.
When using internet cafes, choose one that looks professional. It can be hard to tell, but there are some good signs you can look for once you’re inside:
- Users are forbidden from accessing the control panel settings or installing programs.
- The computer requires a log-in to start the session.
- The taskbar is uncluttered and free of strange applications. Unusual toolbars within browser windows are a tell-tale sign of a spyware riddled PC.
Unfamiliar public computers may not be secured by antivirus, antispyware, or a firewall. You may ask the shop assistant a few questions about the security of their PCs, but always be suspicious and, as a rule of thumb, only access services you really must use. Assume the worst, as the machine you’re using is likely to be infected with malicious spyware and may be monitoring your browsing.
If you have to access confidential websites like internet banking services, double check that the website hasn’t been redirected by making sure you are using a secure ‘https’ connection. You can use these alternative ways of entering usernames and passwords to outwit keyloggers:
- Windows has as ‘On Screen Keyboard’ built in to type passwords instead of using the keyboard. It is found though the menu at Start > Run > osk.exe
- Use a word processor to type out the alphabet, then copy and paste the letters into the password field individually.
Make sure you don’t tick the 'save password' or 'remember me' functions when using public computers. When you finish your session, clear your browsing history by selecting 'Delete Browsing History' from the browser menu.
If you’ve divulged confidential information to a public computer, change your password at your next login to stay on the safe side.
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