Now that I’m finding myself traveling more for presentations and just “working” in coffee shops, airports, and other venues, I’m thinking more about the dangers of shared WiFi access. I don’t want to be an alarmist or over-react, but I also want to be well informed and take reasonable precautions to safeguard my own information and my digital footprint.

visualizing hacking and credit card theft online

With these thoughts in mind, I read Hilary Whiteman’s article last week for CNN, “Security experts warn of dangers of rogue Wi-Fi hotspots” with interest. Whiteman wrote:

Security experts warn that hackers may be masquerading as free public Wi-Fi providers to gain access to the laptops of unsuspecting travelers. All it takes, they say, is a computer program downloaded from the Internet, an open access point and a user who has ignored basic security advice. “The difficulty for travelers is differentiating between a good Internet access hotspot and a rogue, or somebody trying to actually glean credentials from you. The issue is that you don’t necessarily know the difference between a good and a bad one,” computer security expert Sean Remnant told CNN.

This morning I am working from Java Dave’s coffee house in downtown Oklahoma City, and I’ve opted to use my AT&T 3G network card rather than the provided free Wifi. I’ve been eyeing iPhone tethering options (which don’t require a jailbreak) like Netshare, EnableTethering.com, and iPhoneModem which could make my 3G network laptop card unnecessary, but I haven’t tried any of those methods yet. I am under the impression (but could be mistaken) that one of the main benefits of using a cell phone network Internet connection IS security, since packet sniffers like Aircrack are much less likely to be in use / effective on AT&T’s data network than they could be on an open WiFi network like we have here at Java Daves. The website Wirelessdefence.org has a good listing of security precautions that can be taken to lock down / secure a wifi access point at your home, school, or other place of business. Not using Wifi at all, and instead using a cellular network Internet connection, is a suggestion that isn’t on the list but is worth considering if you have that option when connecting on the road.

Have you personally had a bad experience with your information, login credentials, or websites getting compromised because you were “hacked” at an open WiFi public access point? Have you heard others share stories about this? I know some folks who’ve had ID theft problems, but none that were traceable to a WiFi Internet hacker. Are you opting to tether your iPhone or other smartphone when you connect online away from home now, instead of using free WiFi access points, because of security concerns? What have your experiences been with smartphone tethering?

The Security Now Podcast has some good episodes addressing WiFi security issues, including #89 “Even More Badly Broken WEP,” and #11 “Bad WiFi Security.” Hat tip to Manuel Gonzales and Eric Hileman for sharing some of the links above and helping me think more about security issues in the past few weeks.

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4 Responses to Thinking conservatively about public WiFi security and Smartphone tethering

  1. Rich Platts says:

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I’m sort of tied down to Verizon, so my options are limited. I love the idea of the MiFi card, and it gets great reviews, but if I can tether AND get a smartphone for roughly the same price, then I think I will go with that option. Keeping my fingers crossed for a pre-holiday Android release on Verizon (and the ability to wifi tether)

  2. John Sowash says:

    Great information…lots to think about!

  3. […] post: Thinking conservatively about public WiFi security and Smartphone … VN:F [1.6.1_878]please wait…Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)VN:F [1.6.1_878]Rating: 0 (from 0 […]

  4. ahicktiger says:

    We still have no option for high speed internet at our house, except for my I-phone or very expensive and slower satellite internet . It has been nice to feel as if I belong to the digital generation (after being stuck on dial-up) at our house and not just at school, and very nice to get materials for building lectures for my classes without being at school.

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