PITTSBURGH, PA--(Marketwired - July 05, 2016) - As bus rides, classes, and homework are traded in for road trips, hotel rooms, and vacations, parents and kids alike are likely to find themselves far afield from the relatively safe confines of known, trusted networks. Devices aren't staying behind when travelers hit the road, and Wombat Security wants mobile users of all ages to know how to maintain secure connections without inflating data usage.
A recent study by Avast Software, a developer of mobile and PC security products, showed that even IT-savvy people tend to have a reckless attitude about open-access WiFi. Those who don't have a good understanding of the principles of cyber security are likely to be even less cautious, which puts financial and personal data at greater risk.
Device counts per household continue to rise, and mobile users are getting younger and younger. Wombat cautions that there is no "innate" understanding of how to use WiFi safely; on the contrary, many users seek to connect whenever possible in order to minimize mobile data usage. It's critical that new and existing users be brought up to speed on best practices for WiFi connectivity.
Last summer, Wombat shared a few key tips for taking cyber security on the road, and they wanted to take the opportunity to re-emphasize the importance of treating open-access WiFi -- also known as free WiFi and WiFi hotspots -- with the kid gloves it deserves. There are a number of ways that hackers -- experienced and inexperienced alike -- can compromise WiFi hotspots. Though there is no way to completely eliminate the risks associated with open WiFi, users can protect themselves by adopting better habits. Wombat offers five key tips for improving WiFi security:
1. Restrict Activities
When on open WiFi, Wombat advises users to strictly limit their online activities. When signing into email and social media accounts or making a purchase on compromised networks, attackers could easily log that information and use it for their own gain. As such, users should refrain from logging into secure sites or doing anything financial in nature (like making purchases or checking account balances).
Users that absolutely cannot wait until they're on a secure network to complete one of these riskier actions should ensure that https is present in the web addresses they use -- https://facebook.com vs. http://facebook.com, for example. Many sites now default to https because it helps keep communications secure.
Wombat notes that, In general, https is valuable addition to any online session that requires you to enter private information, not just those over WiFi. It's important, however, that you do not confuse secure communications with safe sites.
2. Install a VPN
Users who are regularly in situations where they use open-access WiFi to transmit personal or corporate data, should not simply rely on https; instead, they should install a VPN, says Wombat. A virtual private network (VPN) is a service that helps to protect data transmissions on a WiFi network. As Wombat and others have noted, it is alarmingly easy for someone to snoop on open WiFi traffic; using a VPN is like creating a tunnel for information to pass through. That tunnel creates a barrier between the data and an attacker.
Because options for a VPN will vary by device (laptop vs. smartphone vs. tablet), Wombat advises users to do their own research and choose an application that has been well-reviewed by reliable sources.
3. Confirm Before Connecting
Because the names of WiFi networks are manually created, hackers can mimic the names of reliable networks. They often set up "rogue" or "evil twin" hotspots with names that seem logical or are similar to other networks in a given location (Airport Lounge or Lobby Wifi, for example).
To confirm a network is valid prior to connecting, Wombat advises users to check with an employee or another trusted source (an official sign or brochure, for example). And they caution everyone to be careful: just a little difference in the name -- one letter or number, for instance -- means it's a different network.
4. Turn off WiFi When Not in Use
It's safer for users -- and less draining on battery life -- if WiFi is disabled when not in use. Users who automatically connect to WiFi could end up joining a network that is unsafe. Wombat notes that, for example, a user who connected to a safe hotspot with the name "AirportWiFi" could end up automatically connecting to a malicious network with the same name in another location.
Users who want to turn WiFi on and off can do so via their device's settings (on many smartphones, this function is available in an easy-to-access menu). Wombat advises that when WiFi is enable, users should make sure any connections they make are intentional.
5. Don't Confuse a Trusted Location with a Trusted Network
When travel in local areas and beyond, users are likely to visit many upstanding establishments, including coffee shops, restaurants, stores, and hotels. But just a location is trustworthy doesn't mean that it's free WiFi network is safe.
Wombat advises all users to recognize that no open WiFi network is 100% safe. They note, however, that users can reduce their risk by making the effort to create new habits for themselves and by helping others -- like children, parents, and spouses -- learn those habits as well.
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