Jan 08, 2014 12:49 PM

How Hackers Use Wi-Fi to Get Your Passwords

With the most recent announcement from Snapchat where millions of their accounts were compromised by hackers, we couldn’t be more cautious in tightening up security measures and giving you tips on how to protect yours.


Most people walk into a Starbucks or some place that offers free Wi-Fi, open their Windows settings and find any open Wi-Fi hotspot that's labeled with the coffee shop's name and doesn't require a password. The problem with this type of Wi-Fi is that you don't know you're connecting to the free Wi-Fi offered by the establishment or a hacker's hotspot. Hackers can set up a Wi-Fi through their phones or any device with the right software and wireless card.


Unencrypted Data and Passwords


When you don't encrypt your data, the hacker is then able to read the data being sent to the server. This includes any shopping sites, forums or web-based email accounts that don't have "https" as the protocol.


With unencrypted data, the hacker can then see the passwords you type into the website. Most people use the same password across multiple platforms, so the hacker is able to guess your password for other accounts. For instance, if you use the same password for a forum and your email, the hacker can see the password sent to the forum website and then guess that the password is the same for your email.


It gets even worse when the hacker has access to your email. With access to your email, the hacker can then perform password reminders on other website accounts. With password reminders, the hacker can reset or retrieve passwords for other accounts. The end result is that the hacker has several of your passwords, and this can lead to your bank accounts or financial accounts being hacked.


How to Protect Your Data


The first way to protect your data is to ensure that the Wi-Fi you connect to is secure and it's the official establishment's Wi-Fi hotspot. Don't access random Wi-Fi hotspots even if you need to access the Internet from an open connection. If you do decide to access Wi-Fi, ask the establishment for the name of the connection so that you get the right access point.


If you decide to connect to Wi-Fi, protect yourself by connecting only to sites that offer https. Https is the protocol that encrypts data from your computer to the website's server and back again from the server to your computer. With encryption, the hacker is unable to view the data sent back and forth.


Another way to protect your data is using different passwords for different websites. You don't need one password for each site, but you can choose one password for insecure sites and choose another password for more secure, critical websites such as financial and medical sites. This won't stop a hacker from getting your password, but the hacker won't be able to gain access to your more critical accounts if they get insecure passwords such as those used on forums and random content sites.


The next time you decide to access a Wi-Fi hotspot, be careful that the site is not a rogue access point made by a hacker. If you have any suspicions at all, avoid the hotspot and wait to access the Internet.

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