SAU Buzz

Free Wi-Fi: Accessing more than just the internet

by Caroline Carbonara
Posted on Feb 19, 2018

Everyone loves to get something for nothing.  And Wi-Fi is one of everyone’s favorite free things. Many people especially love free public Wi-Fi: there are no passwords to ask for, it saves us data and is always helpful in speeding up our work. But what is the real cost of free Wi-Fi?

We might love public Wi-Fi – but so do hackers. According to The 2017 Identity Fraud Study, cybercriminals stole over $16 Billion dollars through Wi-Fi networks in 2016 and this number is on the rise daily. Everyday thieves are becoming more and more tech savvy and know how to infiltrate in the tiniest of cracks in firewalls. Even in our corner of Iowa, we are vulnerable to cyber theft via unsecured Wi-fi.

       This past week, Dr. William Campbell of the Music Department had a brush with cyber thieves. As many people do before they go shopping, Dr. Campbell quickly checked his bank account before heading into the store. When he approached the checkout, he checked the account again, checked out and walked out like normal.  

Roughly fifteen minutes after returning from the store, Dr. Campbell received a fraud alert in his email notifying him of a password change. But he had not changed his password.  Minutes later another email landed in his inbox: this time alerting him his accounts had insufficient funds. After many failed login attempts, hours spent on the phone and thorough security identification measures with his Bank’s fraud specialist, he was able to get into his account once more to discover the unthinkable. In the time he had spent examining green peppers, driving home and getting comfortable on the couch, a cybercriminal had made their attack.

       In about half an hour, nearly $4,000 had been withdrawn from his accounts.

       Despite suspicions about the grocery store’s PIN pads, it was discovered that a cyber thief had attacked Dr. Campbell’s accounts through an unsecured Wi-Fi network his smartphone had called trustworthy. Experts call this account-takeover fraud. Criminals can easily hack into open Wi-Fi networks and exploit any and all data and information stored on your phone and within apps.

       Anyone using a public wifi network can fall victim to a cybercrime just like Dr. Campbell.  When using a public hotspot, it is generally unencrypted, meaning that the wi-fi and your data are free to the world. A compromised router can ingest a lot of personal information.  

In a recent survey by Identity Theft Resource Center, over 71% of participants admitted to using public Wi-Fi to check emails, 13% to shop online and 11% to access online banking information despite knowing the risks of using an unsecured network. On an unsecured network, all of this information is vulnerable to attack.

“This is a totally new level of thievery. And we have to be better about protecting ourselves.” Dr. Campbell said.

       So what exactly can people do to protect themselves?  Here are just a few suggestions to keep information safe from hackers:

·      Enable multi-Step authentication measures on devices and critical accounts.

·      Never use an unsecured Wi-Fi network you are unfamiliar with.

·      Install and regularly update antivirus programs.

·      Use strong passwords and change them often.

·      Look for the “s” in https. It stands for secured so you know the website is clean.

Students should remember Dr Campbell’s story and these tips next time they log onto a new network. When everything we do online is public, “free Wi-Fi” can ruin your credit score and tarnish your identity forever. Protect yourself and free Wi-Fi won’t cost you a thing.