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Discover how cybercriminals steal your private data

Everyone loves free Wi-Fi, isn't it? And fortunately, we've got access to free wireless-based Internet almost everywhere! We can connect to free hotspots in coffee shops, restaurants, libraries, hotels, airports, and in many other places.

Still, if you use free Internet access, you should be aware of the fact that anytime you connect your device to a public hotspot, you risk exposing, and sometimes even losing all the data that is stored on your phone, tablet or laptop. Yes, if you've got private pictures of your family and/or credit card data in your device, an attacker can get access to them the minute you've connected to your coffee shop's hotspot.

To understand how this can happen, and what you can do to stay safe, we have asked George Hardesty, CEO of Data Alliance, to give us some information about the potential dangers, as well as advice that will help us keep private information and data secure.

According to him, a hacker will often spend his entire day in a coffee shop, ordering a coffee in the morning, and then asking the password of the local hotspot. Then, he will connect his specially engineered laptop to the network, and get the name of all the clients that are currently connected to Wi-Fi.


Once that this is done, the hacker can determine the names of the recently joined networks for each person/device. Just by taking a look at those lists, the cybercriminal will be able to find out which person is an interesting target. While it is true that some of the previously joined networks will have common names, such as John38, hackers will often discover the name of the companies that those innocent people are working for, the countries that they have recently visited, and so on. So, it's quite easy to determine if a particular person that's sitting next to them is rich or not.

Hold on, we are only beginning! Most hackers will also set up their own Wi-Fi hotspots, which can be accessed without using a password. Often, they will use network names that are similar with what customers expect to find in a coffee shop, in our case. So, most of the new customers who want to connect to the Internet will join in fact the hacker's network.

Technology is constantly evolving, there is no doubt about it. However, some of these innovations do more harm than good. Let's consider the way in which most modern devices are set up by default: they search for, and then connect to new Wi-Fi networks without prompting their owners to accept the connection or reject it. It is true that this setting can be disabled, but very few people will understand the dangers behind this "feature", so most of them won't turn it off.

Once that a device is connected to the hacker's wireless network, the bad guy can easily empty the customer's bank accounts, retrieve his/her passwords, and so on.

So, what can you do to stay safe on public Wi-Fi? Not too much, to be completely honest. However, there are some precautions that you can take to minimize the risks. Don't connect to a new hotspot because it's got a stronger wireless signal, when you can connect to one that you've used before, even if it's got a slightly weaker signal.

Then, ensure that you are only accessing HTTPS-based websites. By doing this you will minimize your risks of getting the passwords intercepted by third parties.

Resist the temptation to access important websites while you are utilizing free Wi-Fi. Don't check your bank account, for example; wait until you get home to the that. Basically, you should only access news sites and portals that don't require you to sign in.

To keep your device safe, always use your phone's data plan to access the Internet while you are on the road. And to boost your security levels close to 100%, utilize a virtual private network, a service that will encrypt the data that's traveling from your device to the destination server, thus making it almost impossible for hackers to get access to your information.