How secure is your Wi-Fi connection?

November 23rd, 2015

“Arguing that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say” -Edward Snowden

We all look at cyber security from different angles, as do those whom plan to circumvent our security measures. A large misconception is that we must protect ourselves or “big brother” will get our personal information. The truth is, we give it willingly with our knowledge of doing so every time we say “I agree” or “I accept” to software we install, websites we are members of, and implicitly when we participate on the vast playing field that is science and technology. There is simply no avoiding it. The unfortunate part about this uphill battle is that we are protecting ourselves from the wrong threats. Everything we touch and everywhere we go with our computers or phones leaves a digital footprint behind. To combat this, people have turned to proxy services as may have heard of on the news such as ToR – The Onion Router and the Deep Web.

Big Brother, government and organizations can get your information through the most basic forms of personal security we commonly overlook that allow us to be so easily compromised on the digital frontier. As new technology emerges it is only natural to look to the scarier aspects of the danger, and we ask are selves “is this a new way to be exposed?”. The much larger threat is not the big organizations collecting our personal data, it is those who leave the biggest holes in personal security, ourselves. We are our own biggest cyber threat.

We all know that it is good practice to lock down our home Wi-Fi, but how often do we lock down the phone or computer?How many people are reading this right now with a phone that has Wi-Fi services turned on without being connected to a network, or even at all times every day? Did you know that while your Wi-Fi is on but not connected your device is broadcasting in clear text a list of all the networks it has “remembered”?

An unconnected Wi-Fi endpoint, such as your phone, will be going down a list from top to bottom and starting right at the top again. All that is going on is a wireless version of yelling “hey, <insert home network name>! Are you there?”. And all someone has to do is have a computer echo that information back to the Wi-Fi endpoint saying, “yeah, that’s me. Let’s hook up”. Thus the spoof hacker is born.

What can we do to prevent such a simple exploit? Well, other than turning your Wi-Fi off on PCs and phones when you are not using it there are phones out there that have what’s known as “locational awareness”. That means the phone will use GPS services to determine an area you know has Wi-Fi, such as the home or office. This way your device will toggle Wi-Fi on or off so that it is never on in an area where it will be broadcasting to connect. Such a simple feature protects the largest hole in personal network security. Now, the common argument we may hear when suggesting this is why I made a point about Big Brother watching.

“If I allow my phone to use location services people can watch where I am!”. The funny thing about this argument is all you are allowing is for you to see where you are. Your location will always be available to those interested as long as you are connected to a tower or the internet. However, while using this service we are so sceptic about we can prevent those who would mean to collect more than just our age, gender, where we shop etc…Those who would want that information can get it, or already have it. The idea is to stop those who would gather your email passwords, online banking information and those things that can be exploited just by watching 30 minutes of internet traffic.

This is not to say that one issue outweighs the other. It’s just that the belief that the goal is to stop the large organizations from collecting our information with personal cyber awareness is a losing battle without a much larger social reform, which may come one day. But until then let’s not forget about the smaller guys.

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