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7 of the worst wireless security myths

by Brian Cody

You’re connected to the internet right now—whether it’s wirelessly or via an Ethernet cable. But have you stopped to think about how safe your connection actually is? Is someone somewhere watching you as you read this article? 

Probably not —but that may get you wondering about the safety of wireless connectivity.

Getting access to free Wi-Fi networks is pretty easy, however there could be risks associated with using unsecured public hotspots. Separating fact from the fiction and busting some misconceptions of the wifi hotspot once and for all, here’s our 7 worst wireless security myths:

‘Sure I have nothing worth hacking’

You don’t have to be a celebrity or a government body to be a target for hackers. Having this view is like leaving your front door unlocked on the grounds that you don’t have any diamonds or wads of cash tucked down the back of your sofa.

While you might not think you’re a target, you could very well be—and not just for thievery.

Hackers could use your network as part of a botnet network, which means it could be used to carry out an email scam or a DDOS attack with the intention of crashing a site. They could also use it to find personal or credit card details or to obtain the information needed to carry out identity theft, something that happens to average people on a daily basis far more than you’d think.

The same security threat can also apply to home, work and free Wi-Fi networks. Whatever your status, the chances are that there is someone out there who would be happy to have a crack at your network and view what’s going on in your life.

Smaller/weaker networks are harder to hack

This one once had a grain of truth to it but that’s no longer the case. Back in the day, the logic was that reducing the transmit power of your wireless signal would make your network harder to find. The weaker the signal, the less chance there was of some pesky hacker stumbling across it.

Nowadays, the antennas that hackers use to find networks are incredibly powerful so they will pick it up. Just like Liam Neeson in Taken, they will find you. Or certainly they might, which is why you should take wifi security more seriously.

Choosing to weaken your signal won’t deter anyone from breaking into your network but it could make your signal very annoying—especially as you move around the house and find you have a serious connectivity problem.

Your transmit power should always be aimed at giving you the best coverage performance and not used as a security measure.  

Public Wi-Fi is safe

Free public Wi-Fi isn’t a safe space. People think it’s safe if it’s password-protected, but that’s often not enough. The fact that the connection has a password may force you to pester the staff for the code but it definitely doesn’t make you any safer.

This means that you really should avoid online banking, downloading apps or games, or online shopping on public connections. Try catching up on the news, checking the weather or doing anything else that doesn’t involve accessing your sensitive data.

A good tip is to avoid remembering passwords on public networks when you first connect, which prevents your device from automatically logging into a network every time you’re in range of it. Hackers now sometimes use special gadgets to jump to the top of your Wi-Fi queue and pretend to be a recognised network. Connect to one of those fake signals and you’ll make the hacker very happy.

The best way to safely use a public Wi-Fi network is with a virtual private network (VPN), which uses “tunnels” through which your encrypted (now unreadable to anyone but you) data is sent.

You should also be careful about what Wi-Fi network you are connecting to. Hackers can easily set up an open Wi-Fi network with a safe-sounding name in an effort to trap people looking to save their data allowance. It may look like the real thing but ask yourself the question - Is it really safe?

Always be sensible! Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) like Norton Secure VPN can help protect your most sensitive information like passwords and credit card numbers while surfing public hot-spots, adding that extra layer off security to your public connections no matter where you are.

Why should you use a VPN?

Disabling your SSID hides your network

If you’re asking “What’s an SSID?” then it’s safe to assume that you haven’t bought into this particular myth. Your Service Set Identifier (SSID) is basically the display name of your home network.

You might have given it a ‘hilarious’ name like Secret Spy Base. If you haven’t renamed it, your SSID might be the name of your internet service provider and a string of letters and numbers. Regardless of the name, a long-standing myth suggests that disabling your SSID from broadcasting could hide your network from sticky-fingers hackers.

It’s a nice theory but it doesn’t hold much water as it’s a bit like playing hide and seek and hiding behind a curtain while your feet are still sticking out. You might be hidden, but you’re still visible.

If they want to, hackers will be able to find the hidden SSID. Devices running Windows 7 or later will often see a network, even if it isn’t identified by name.

Essentially, turning off your SSID might give you a false sense of security, but it won’t keep you any safer from hackers.

One thing you can do is secure your device with a password, which makes it more difficult for hackers to access your network. If you haven’t already done this, it might be an idea to quickly make sure your connection is password protected.

MAC address filtering will keep you safe

This may sound complicated but it basically operates by using a Media Access Control (MAC) address, which identifies every device on your network. Without getting too technical, you only enter the specific MAC address for devices that you want to give access to.

If you’re sneaky about it, you can have a bit of fun and lock all your siblings out of the connection at home and drive them all mad when you all go home for holidays or birthdays.

While a MAC address sounds great to keep people out of your connection, there is one gaping flaw that will have you cursing all the time you spent setting it up. All a decent hacker needs is a wireless network analyser, which will let him see all the MAC addresses you have authorised.

Once they change their own MAC address to match one of the ones on the list, you’re pretty much left wide open. Still, it is fun to annoy your siblings or your other half if they keep hogging Netflix.

Only an expert hacker can attack you on public Wi-Fi

There is a perception out there that it takes a seasoned hacker with some hi-tech equipment to hack into your device while you’re using a public Wi-Fi network. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
As we mentioned above, public Wi-Fi isn’t very secure, but you’d be surprised how little tech savvy is actually required to pull a simple hack off.

The most common form of attack is a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack, which lets attackers eavesdrop on people using a Wi-Fi network. They can then intercept, send and receive information from both parties without the victims being any wiser.  

Encryption will keep your network safe

Unlike the other myths, this one has an element of truth to it. Encryption works by disguising the data that is being sent over your network. It will stop people from eavesdropping on you and protect you and your information.

It is widely seen as the best form of protection out there but there are exceptions.

Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) was the go-to of encryption in the early days of Wi-Fi but it is no longer a match for today’s bad guys. A modern hacker can tear through a WEP encryption in minutes.

Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) became the next security option of choice but it also had some security issues and it was replaced by WPA2, which is a significant upgrade on both of its predecessors.
WPA2 is generally considered to be pretty secure but it can be vulnerable to certain attacks. The truth is that nothing is 100% safe but doing your research and keeping updates on new developments will go a long way to keeping the hackers at bay.

One thing you need to do is check is that you have enabled encryption in your connection settings

Having WPA is one thing but turning it on is another. If you’re not sure, give your internet service provider a call and they’ll talk you through checking your connection.

Now go forth and enjoy your Wi-Fi safely and securely.

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