Do You Protect Your Wi-Fi Signal?

by Ryan Guina

Do you use wi-fi for your internet connection? I don’t use wi-fi often, unless I’m at home (I rarely use it at the library, coffee shops, etc. because I’m paranoid). And rightly so, it appears. I just read a few articles which made me more paranoid once I read how easy it is for anyone to steal your info when you are on an unprotected wi-fi signal.

How to Protect your Wi-Fi Signal

The Danger of Using an Unprotected Wi-Fi Signal

Take a brief moment to read these articles; they will open your eyes to the dangers of using an unprotected wi-fi signal:

These articles specifically refer to using a free FireForx plugin, callef FireSheep, which enables someone to hijack another web surfer’s information while they are surfing the web. This is called sidejacking, which, according to Webopedia is “the malicious act of hijacking an engaged Web session with a remote service by intercepting and using the credentials that identified the user/victim to that specific server. Typically, SideJacking is most common on sites that require authentication through a username and password, such as online Web mail accounts as well as social networking sites.”

It gets scarier – anyone can do it. It wasn’t long ago when you had to have a pretty good tech background to sidejack someone’s signal and login information. But now anyone with an internet connection and no tech skills can do it, thanks to the FireFox plugin FireSheep. Basically, anyone using FireSheep can sidejack the logins for sites like FaceBook, Amazon, GMail, and other sites if the web surfer in their range isn’t protecting their connection. Note: The FireSheep developer claims the plugin was designed to raise awareness of how easy it is to steal people’s information, and FireSheep also allows you to “spy” on yourself, to see which information you are publicly transmitting. Regardless of how the plugin is used, the threat is real.

Why you need to protect your wi-fi transmissions

Obviously, the biggest threat revolves around identity theft and social engineering. Exposing your login credentials for sites such as financial institutions, Amazon, FaceBook, and other social media sites can hurt your wallet and your reputation. Exposing login information to other websites could affect your career – think about what could happen if someone compromised your FaceBook account and told off your boss, or hacked into your company’s website and deleted or altered important files, uploaded viruses, or worse, stole proprietary information. It isn’t pretty when you think about how much damage can be accomplished in a short amount of time.

How you can secure your wi-fi transmissions

The first step is being aware of the issue. The articles on TechCrunch, CNN, and other sites opened my eyes to the dangers.

Here are some great resources I found that discuss protecting your wi-fi signal:

  • How To Protect Your Login Information From Firesheep. TechCrunch recommends using the free FireFox plugin: Force-TLS, which forces websites to use HTTPS, a more secure protocol for internet transmissions. Note: It doesn’t work with all sites, but it is more secure than going without it.
  • Five Ways to Shear Firesheep. ZDNet recommends using a Virtual Private Network, or VPN to encrypt your connections, as well as using the aforementioned Force-TLS plugin, or using a private wi-fi connection with your mobile phone. The author of this article doesn’t recommend free VPN services, but does recommend paid VPN services, including, if you don’t have the technical expertise to set up your own.
  • How to guard yourself and your Mac from Firesheep and Wi-Fi snooping. This solution is specifically for MacBook users, thought some of the tips can be applied universally.
  • 15 free VPN Services. AvinashTech shares 15 free VPN networks you can use to encrypt your transmissions. Be sure to research each option before making a selection, as prices and features may change.

What do you do? As I previously mentioned, I don’t often use public wi-fi, and I rarely use it for anything I consider to be important (basically anything that requires a password). That said, I just downloaded the Force-TLS plugin for FireFox and I am researching some of the free VPN solutions as an additional safety measure.

Do you see this as a real threat? How do you protect yourself when using public wi-fi?

Published or updated December 29, 2011.
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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Chris

An actual speed test: without VPN (Anonymizer) down: 2.7 Meg up: .37. With VPN: down 2.0, up .30. This was on a hotel wifi.


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