Take precautions on public Wi-Fi

KUALA LUMPUR: If you are surfing the Internet on a public Wi-Fi, always assume someone is watching you out there.

Better yet, do not connect to any public Wi-Fi at all, said LE Global Services (LGMS) executive director Fong Choong Fook, whose private cybersecurity firm employs hackers to test the network security of the country’s major banks.

“I would never use a public Wi-Fi,” he said.

“Even an IT person may not be able to tell if the access point he is connected to is safe or if the activities are being watched.

“There may be signs like your Internet is slowing down but hackers can make it so elegant that you won’t even notice,” he said in an interview.

Malaysia’s national cybersecurity agency CyberSecurity Malaysia (CSM) said hackers could position themselves between a person’s device and the Wi-Fi router and are able to record sensitive data that the surfer is keying into his device.

Hackers can also “create” their own Wi-Fi and trick people into thinking they are connected to a credible public access point like the one from a restaurant, airport or office – when in actual fact these devices are connected to the criminals’ hardware.

Thus, they would be able to remotely watch everything a person is sending out on the Wi-Fi like passwords, e-mails or credit card information.

As frightening as these attacks may sound, Fong said this had been going as early as the 1990s.

Demonstrating to The Star how a hacker could steal information, LGMS set up an “evil twin” Wi-Fi using a laptop and named it after a famous franchise restaurant just below its office in Puchong, Selangor.

Fong connected two devices to this Wi-Fi and proceeded to log into social media, e-mail and Government websites.

Within seconds of logging in, the hacker’s computer began recording the activities in both devices in the experiment – recording every e-mail address, username and password that was keyed in.

Though the demonstration was only meant for the devices in the controlled environment of the LGMS office, three other users got connected to the dummy Wi-Fi, thinking they were linked to the franchise restaurant’s Internet, during the experiment.

“Hackers can target one specific person or they can target everyone in a cafe to get their devices to send all their data through their dummy Wi-Fi

“When they have your information, they can steal your identity. They can pose as you on Facebook, or send out e-mails to your contacts under your account,” he said.

Fong advised users to avoid connecting to public Wi-Fi or to only limit their browsing to Internet searches if they must connect to one.

The firm also suggested users to subscribe to VPN (virtual private network) technologies to secure their traffic.

VPN encrypts data on devices, making it hard for hackers to spy on the user’s online activities. Most VPNs are available on a subscription basis, much like an anti-virus programme.

So far this year, CSM has recorded eight instances where private Wi-Fi networks were hacked and 1,462 cases of online intrusions have been reported, which is nearly double the number of incidents compared to the same period in 2015.

It advised users to keep their Internet browsers up to date and to disable the feature which automatically saves password in the cache –as it makes it easier for criminals to steal.

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