You can’t beat the convenience of checking e-mail and hopping on the Internet at (Wi-Fi) hotspots found in airports, coffee shops, bookstores, and even in some major parks. For the uninitiated, Wi-Fi hotspots are areas where you can use your wireless laptop to surf the Web and check e-mail.
But the question you have to ask yourself is, just how safe is it to connect? With the proliferation of hackers, viruses, and identity theft at an all-time high, you are smart to be concerned. Wi-Fi spots are very attractive to hackers because they can use what’s called an “evil twin” connection to access your laptop.
An evil twin is a wireless hotspot set up by a hacker to lure people from a nearby, legitimate hotspot. For example, when you log in at your favorite coffee shop, you might actually be logging onto the evil twin Internet connection set up by the innocent-looking person working on a laptop at the next table.
The most dangerous evil twins remain invisible and allow you to do business as usual. But in the background, they record everything you are typing. Buy something online and they are recording your credit card information. Log on to your bank account, and they can grab your password. Some hotspots may even feed you a fake Web page after you log on asking you to update your billing information. This is the same tactic used in phishing scams.
So what can you do to make sure you are not giving evil twin access to your laptop?
First, know the name of the hotspot you’re going to use by asking someone who works there. Some businesses will give you printed instructions that include the hotspot name. Again, be careful. Hackers will try to name their evil twin network by a very similar name as the real hotspot, and may even show up as a stronger signal.
The best protection you can have is connecting via your company’s VPN (virtual private network). A VPN will protect your online information by encrypting your data and activity even if you’re connected through an evil twin.
If you don’t have a company VPN, you should assume that someone is looking over your shoulder and recording everything you type in. Therefore, the BEST protection without a VPN is to never type in information such as credit cards, passwords, or social security numbers when connected to a public Wi-Fi hotspot.
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