When browsing the Internet on your smartphone, you know how to be on the lookout for scams that will disable your device with viruses; but did you know that you also need to be careful which Internet connection you use? By connecting to the wrong Wi-Fi signal, you could be falling for a scam.

When Free Doesn’t Really Mean Free
Many mobile device users enjoy taking advantage of free public Wi-Fi. There might not be any thought given when accessing a Wi-Fi network named after the corresponding public place you’re hanging out at. For example, you go to have a slice at your favorite pizza joint and see a Wi-Fi access point that says, “Tino’s Pizza FREE Wi-Fi.” You notice that the connection is unlocked, and you see a sign in the window that reads, “FREE Wi-Fi,” so you log on and check your e-mail whilst destroying a hot slice of buffalo chicken pizza.

Little do you realize that, while your face is accruing a copious amount of pizza grease and you are lol-ing at cat videos, a hacker in control of the “free” network just ripped off your personal information. How did this happen?

Setting the Wi-Fi Trap
In a situation like this, a hacker would set up their own Wi-Fi network, while giving it a bogus title that fits the public venue. It’s as easy as setting up a wireless router in range of where the victims will congregate, and then extract the data from the router using their own computer. The router would have to be nearby, like in a van without windows parked across the street or upstairs in an apartment, but that doesn’t mean the hacker is required to be near the vicinity because they can make a remote connection and do their dirty work from the comfort of their abandoned warehouse.

A Wi-Fi hack of this variety is what’s known as social engineering, which is a scam that tricks you into downloading the virus by offering you something you want (like free Wi-Fi). If the hacker has the right tools and knowhow, and your firewall is weak, then even a novice would be able to use the established Wi-Fi connection to root around your device and lift your personal information.

You might be safe from this scam in a small place like Tino’s Pizza, but you will especially want to be wary of this scam when you go to a large public gathering like a trade show or sporting event. A hacker would have a better return on their investment with a larger crowd, and with all the commotion of a big event, it would be easy for their scheme to go unnoticed.

How You Can Protect Yourself
One good way to make sure you’re not making a bad connection is to ask an attendant at a new venue if the access point your phone is displaying is a legitimate one. It may feel silly asking such an obvious question, but you should only have to ask this question once because the correct access point will be saved on your phone for next time. Plus, having to suffer one dumb look from a clerk will be worth keeping your sensitive information safe.

You can also install a strong security solution on your mobile device that will keep hackers from accessing your data, but as is the nature with digital security, even the best solution will fail if a user is tricked by a social engineering scam. To learn more about how to protect your mobile device from threats, give Think Tank NTG a call at 800-501-DATA.


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