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Sarah UKFast | Account Manager

Public Wi-Fi: Who’s Looking Over Your Shoulder?

29 September 2011 by Jenn Granger

Have you ever used public Wi-Fi?

I do, sometimes without even realising it when my phone picks it up while I’m out. However, do you understand the potential dangers of using it?

Public Wi-Fi is almost completely insecure as all local LAN traffic is unencrypted. If you look over your shoulder the person sitting at their laptop with a cup of coffee in hand could not only be looking at everything you are doing but could actually be interacting with the sites as if they are you.

For companies this means that employees could be diligently working out of the office while exposing all your secrets to whoever wants them.

It has long been known that public Wi-Fi is unsecure. However your average user has been fairly safe knowing that it is unlikely someone is going to go to the effort of hacking into their session. Last year though, a Firefox plugin was launched called Firesheep. This made it easy for anyone with a copy of Firefox to hack into other people’s sessions through public Wi-Fi.

Sites that use SSL cannot be affected. For Twitter and Facebook the release of Firesheep gave them further impetus to launch secure versions of their sites – if you are not using them, switch now.

By no means am I suggesting you stop using public Wi-Fi. There are ways to protect your data. You can use an encrypting proxy server (also known as VPN) on your laptop. On your phone or tablet it gets a bit more complicated as there is no simple solution. There are browser based VPN’s but they will not work automatically and setting it up on your phone each time is annoying.

The most important thing that you can do to protect yourself is to be aware of the risks. Use secure sites where possible; don’t start working on your company’s top secret project and think about all the information someone could be gathering about you.