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“The bad guys are at Starbucks!”

Bad Guys?

Drive-bys, Phishing, Identity Theft! The internet seems dangerous, but protecting yourself starts with protecting your own computer and network. One exploit that so-called “hackers” (actually it should be “attackers”) is something you may never have expected. It’s that ubiquitous resource that we can’t live without, Wi-Fi.

Because Wi-Fi is a radio version of something we always took for granted, wired networking, people assume it is inherently secure. Nothing could be further for the truth! By its nature of being wireless, your data is literally available to be collected by anyone with a laptop. Some engineers call it packet sniffing or network sniffing, but whatever you call it, joining any Wi-Fi network is the same as putting your network switch or home router outside your doorstep and putting a sign on it, “Hey, plug your computer in and invade my network!” Even outside of home, at an internet cafe or Starbucks, everyone sitting there is subject to everyone else’s traffic. So how do you protect yourself from that?

Getting Pawned at Starbucks
The short answer is encryption, and making it a priority to join “encrypted” networks. If you join a Wi-Fi network without a passphrase, you are at a very increased risk. Let’s take Starbucks as an example. You walk in, open your laptop and join the ubiquitous “AT&T” network with no password. Right away, you’ll notice other people’s laptops and phones showing up in your Network Browser or Neighborhood. Guess what? It’s open season on an open network! You type in a URL in your web browser and click “Go”. Instantly it’s logged by the attacker, who is sitting a couple chairs away! Your emails being sent and received? Captured, with all the data inside of those emails. Your name, phone numbers, email addresses, street addresses, all kinds of personal information just short of actual credit card numbers. But they don’t need that. They just need to make a profile of a person, you, and open financial accounts or fake credit cards in your name. The process spirals until your real accounts and identity are sold or compromised months or years later. The attacker never “hacked” your machine, never looked at your hard drive, all they did was listen to your Wi-Fi traffic, and it was easy because you joined an open network.

Protecting your Wi-Fi traffic

Any Wi-Fi network with a “password” greatly increases your security. The actual security mechanism is a bit more complex, the initial passphrase and your computer ID together create a pair of security keys that are unique to your computer and the network. Then, all the data that’s passed back and forth are “encrypted” with these keys. The data is still in the air, subject to capture, but an attacker would have to spend a lot of time and resources to decoding the data. That’s a huge deterrent in and of itself. There are different levels of encryptions, WEP, WPA, and WPA-2 Personal most commonly, but anything is much better than nothing.

So if you have a choice, always choose a network that has a passphrase. If you do not, limit your usage as to not expose your identity as you surf or communicate on the internet. You should know any SSL websites, that use “https” instead of the regular “http” offer some anonymity. Also, like SSL-enabled websites, email can be transmitted via SSL-enabled email servers, you’ll have to check your provider’s settings for details. But it may be easier just to check it on your phone that’s not on the Wi-Fi network. If you have a “hotspot” option on your phone, that is a on-the-go secure way to connect to internet as well.

Our pitch!

“The bad guys are at Starbucks!” was the mantra of an Aerohive Engineer we worked with. All of TechTonic’s staff are certified and trained wireless engineers, specifically in Aerohive Networks, Aerohive is the industry leader in fast, secure, pervasive Wi-Fi networking for companies and organizations of any size, from single offices, to global networks. It’s all easily cloud-managed and greatly increases the productivity and mobility of any workforce. Some industry experts call Aerohive the Cisco of Wireless! TechTonic is an Aerohive Silver Partner and is certified for training, installation, and sale of Aerohive’s entire line of advanced wired and wireless networking appliances, cloud management, and access points. We’d be happy to talk to you about it for free, just contact us here: And remember, the bad guys are at Starbucks!

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