What you don’t realize is that a minute ago, your credit card information may have been intercepted by cyber-criminals and that you are no longer connected to your familiar Wi-Fi hotspot. Instead, you have been tricked into connecting to its “Evil Twin,” a bogus base station set up nearby by someone who wants your confidential information. While this scenario is unlikely at Starbucks, Wi-Fi hotspots are becoming increasingly widespread and few of them are being monitored and protected.
The strategy is fairly simple. Attackers set up a bogus base station in the proximity of a legitimate station and disguise it as an authorized one. A stronger signal is sent from their bogus base station to your laptop and the “Evil Twin” becomes your fake access point. Because Wi-Fi networks use radio signals, they can easily be intercepted by the attackers when they tune in to the same frequency. You go through a fake log-in prompt and the hackers can begin collecting data from your laptop and the laptop of your neighbor, who is munching on a muffin while setting up his online stock portfolio.
To prevent disclosure of important information, avoid conducting financial transactions over Wi-Fi connections. If you have no choice, make sure that the security settings on your laptop are activated. You may want to use a personal firewall to guard your private information. Companies should be particularly weary about using unprotected wireless networks. Although some Wi-Fi providers do take security measures to prevent information theft, most hotspots are set up with the least amount of security settings.
AirDefense, a company specializing in wireless security solutions, has developed a software tool, AirDefense Personal, which monitors for malicious or accidental wireless activities that may compromise the confidentiality of your information. According to Spencer Parker, the director of technical services at AirDefense, this program will make your laptop as safe as it can be while on a Wi-Fi connection. AirDefense Personal is available online for a free download at www.airdefense.net
It’s not like we didn’t have enough to worry about…