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Connecting to public Wi-Fi poses grave risk to security—report

/ 03:00 PM August 01, 2016

Connecting to public Wi-Fi is not so harmless after all.

According to a report from Malaysia-based publication The Star Online, connecting to public networks poses a grave risk to your security.

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LE Global Services (LGMS) Executive Director Fong Choong Fook said that he would never use a public Wi-Fi because of its privacy risks. Fong’s private cybersecurity firm tests the network security of Malaysia’s major banks using employed hackers.

“Even an IT person may not be able to tell if the access point he is connected to is safe or if the activities are being watched. There may be signs like your Internet is slowing down but hackers can make it so elegant that you won’t even notice,” Fong explained.

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Hackers can get between a device and the Wi-Fi router, thus being able to record private data like passwords and credit card information entered into the device, according to Malaysia’s national cyber security agency CyberSecurity Malaysia (CSM). They can also disguise their hacking hardware as Wi-Fi and name it after a restaurant or office, tricking people into connecting to a public access point which they think is secure.

Fong said that this kind of cyberattack has been going on way back in the 1990s.

LGMS demonstrated the procedure, setting up a Wi-Fi using a laptop and named it after a famous restaurant just below its office in Puchong, Selangor. Fong then connected two devices to the Wi-Fi network and logged on to social media and government websites.

The hacker’s computer then recorded all activities from the two devices, every e-mail address, username and password keyed in the device.

Three other devices outside of the experiment connected to the dummy Wi-Fi named after the restaurant.

“Hackers can target one specific person or they can target everyone in a cafe to get their devices to send all their data through their dummy Wi-Fi. When they have your information, they can steal your identity. They can pose as you on Facebook, or send out e-mails to your contacts under your account,” he said.

Fong advised users to avoid public Wi-Fi and to limit Internet use to Internet searches only if necessary. He also suggested subscribing to VPN (virtual private network) technologies to secure their traffic.

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VPN encrypts data on devices, making it hard for hackers to spy on the user’s online activities. Most VPNs are available on a subscription basis.

This year, CSM has recorded eight instances where private Wi-Fi networks were hacked and 1,462 cases of online intrusions have been reported. This is nearly double the number of incidents compared to the same period last year.

CSM also advised users to disable the feature which automatically saves usernames, passwords and other data in the cache and to keep Internet browsers up to date for more secure Internet browsing. Ma. Czarina A. Fernandez, INQUIRER.net trainee/RAM/rga

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