Think twice before logging on to public wi-fi

This article was first published by dmcityview.com


Horror films are commonly built around characters that do things that seem destined to fail disastrously. Whether it’s the 1958 horror classic “The Fly” about a scientist whose teleporter crosses his DNA with a fly, or next week’s “The Lazarus Effect” about researchers who concoct a method to reanimate recently deceased living beings, common sense rarely exists in the horror genre. With that said, if these fictional characters could protest, I’m sure they’d all say their experiments started with mankind’s best intentions in mind. In the real world, several innovations follow this same storyline (think napalm and DDT), and if I were to pick one modern invention that may slowly be turning from societal gift to oppressive burden, it might be Wi-Fi.

The ability to network electronic devices and gadgets via wireless connections has been an absolute godsend to modern living. Phones, televisions, computers, remotes, cars, watches, cash registers and basically anything that can house a computer now communicates information across virtually any distance if Wi-Fi is present. Considering how most of us have at least one Wi-Fi-enabled device on us at all times, it’s hard to imagine the technology has only been around for roughly 15 years. As a culture, we’ve grown so accustomed to Wi-Fi that if hotels, planes or businesses don’t offer it, we quickly get perturbed. In fact, for many Internet-addicted techies, discovering free public Wi-Fi sets off the same endorphin pleasure hormones as kissing or receiving a gift. (It’s true.)

The problem is that many free public wireless connections are what are known as “honeypots,” or tempting gateways to the Internet, which malicious entities set up to rifle through electronic devices for information. Honeypots are entry-level hacking tools, and to the uninitiated, they can be disastrous. Libraries, schools and coffee houses are generally safe public Wi-Fi providers, but hotels, casinos, convention centers and airports almost always charge for wireless. If your device discovers free Wi-Fi in these heavily populated gathering spaces, chances are it was set up surreptitiously and is malevolent. Once connected, whatever data you house on your device will be up for grabs.

But do you know what’s worse than a honeypot? Unsecure Wi-Fi you personally administer blindly. Nevermind your wireless router that you fail to encrypt or password protect, the shear volume of devices that produce wireless signals these days is untenable. Besides receiving wireless TVs, computers, printers, cars, modern home thermostats and generally everything that can receive a signal can also send one and be hacked as well. Say you buy a car with Wi-Fi. If that system gets hacked, then all the electronics in your car are subject to a hacker’s whim. And not just your stereo, but also all the systems that drive the car, such as cruise control, steering, GPS, and if you’re really tech savvy, the personal information you’ve uploaded to your car’s computer.

Thankfully, just as the computer industry developed security protocols to protect devices over the years, car manufacturers are starting to do the same. But users making use of those security measures is the hard part. What good is having wireless protection in your Hyundai if you don’t use it?

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At this point you might be thinking, “Why get paranoid over the chance of hacked cars and printers?” Well, the fact is that you’re ultimately the one responsible for protecting all your Wi-Fi-enabled devices. As every tool in our lives becomes Wi-Fi-enabled, everything in our life is susceptible to the ill-disposed. Meaning, at what point does the convenience of wireless connectivity get overtaken by the frightening thought of securing and maintaining hundreds of wireless connections?


Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. For more tech insights, follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb

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