Top Tips to Protect Yourself on Hot Spots (and from FireSheep)

Posted by danblog on November 7, 2010 in How Tos & Tutorials, Top Ten... |

Firstly just so we are clear, when I refer to “sniffing” I am not referring to when you need a tissue or in fact anything to do with your nose or smell. It’s a computer term for when someone can “sniff” for information on the network/WiFi you are using.

As the data you send and receive when connected to the internet – particularly on open WiFi – is mostly sent unencrypted it is relatively easy for people to view that data and this can not only provide personal information but can allow them to gain access to your online accounts.

FireSheep highlights this and makes it easy for the masses to use this sniffing technology and helps to show how insecure websites – and unsecured hotspots – are and how they can be used by malicious people to gain unauthorised access to your accounts and data.

Here’s some simple tips to help you stay secure when using open WiFi and unsecured networks.

1. Always use SSL where possible – https everywhere.

SSL (commonly known as https) provides an added layer of security as all the data you send and receive over a SSL connection is encrypted and it isn’t possible to be HTTPS_Everywhere_new_logosnooped or sniffed. Unfortunately many of the popular sites do not use SSL connections throughout their sites which enable hackers (or anyone with FireSheep) to easily steal their login/authentication cookies which allow them to pretend to be the user and login to their accounts.

You can use extensions for FireFox such as “https Everywhere” which forces the use of https when using popular sites such as Facebook, Google and Twitter amount many others. Download https everywhere here: eff.org/https-everywhere

(If you know of similar plugins/extensions for other browsers please leave a comment below and I will add it to the post).

2. Avoid open and unsecured WiFi networks.

Simple advice and most impractical in modern life but avoiding unsecured WiFi can help protect you and avoid people snooping your data!

It is also vital you carefully select which WiFi hotspot you connect to and NEVER connect to ad-hoc networks or WiFi networks with odd or unexpected (for example “FREE OPEN WIFI” etc) as these can often be hackers waiting for users to connect and become the “man in the middle” which allows them to view everything you do online, and can even spoof SSL certificates and connections. BE AWARE.

3. Use VPN tools

There are many VPN tools which enable you to easily setup a secured tunnel to their servers and help to protect you when using open WiFi.

One in particular which I use is HotSpot Shield by AnchorFree for this you simple install the software and can then right-click –> connect and it sets up a secured connection helping to protect you when surfing.

When using these services there are a few things to consider, firstly there are often (and definitely in the case of HotSpot Shield) US based. This means your internet connection is being routed via the US and you will be browsing on a US IP. This means websites which are Geo-Aware will perceive you as being in the United States and UK only websites such as BBC iPlayer will not be accessible while using the tunnelled connection.

4. Firewalls & General Security

This may sound obvious to some, but ensure you are running a firewall which helps to block hackers from gaining access to your computer. It is also advisable to use up-to-date virus protection and the latest version of your browser to help avoid security loopholes which may be present in earlier versions.

What’s your top tips for staying secure when using Hot Spots? Leave a comment below!

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