Insecure public Wi-Fi traps UK politicians and how you could be next

Whether we like it or not, we live in an age where a good part of our day is spent on the internet. Regardless of your career choice, you likely rely on the internet for communication of one form or another.

A benefit of living in a world as technologically advanced as ours is the rapidly growing and easily accessible wireless network. Gaining access to the world wide web has never been easier than it is today. All you need to do is head over to your local coffee shop, pull out your smartphone and surf away.

While free internet access is certainly great, it doesn’t come without its risks.

Coffee Shop Wi-Fi

Using public Wi-Fi is a privacy minefield.

Politicians come up red-faced from public Wi-Fi

Free public networks may be a great way to catch up on email, but they’re also quite dangerous for our digital identity. Without adequate encryption, your sensitive and private data may be compromised. This was demonstrated just over a week ago to a number of prominent UK politicians, Rt Hon David Davis MP, Mary Honeyball MEP and Lord Strasburger, all of whom have admitted to regularly using open WiFi networks.

While the three politicians have stated that they use open WiFi networks on a regular basis, they have also admitted that they haven’t received any training to mitigate any of the risks associated with their browsing practices. F-Secure, along with a penetration testing expert from Mandalorian Security Services have conducted an educational experiment with the collaboration of the aforementioned political figures.

The goal of the experiment was to demonstrate the ease, as well as potential stealth, of a cyber attack. During the experiment, security experts have set-up their own WiFi hotspot, but with a twist. The network was malicious, and despite the politicians’ awareness of the ongoing test, they have still connected to said network, thus falling victim to our group of friendly hackers.

While running this experiment, the friendly attackers quickly took control over MP David Davis’ email account, and shortly after, his PayPal account – all because the MP (like most of us) uses the same credentials for several web services.

The white hat hackers didn’t stop there, though, and after successfully penetrating MP David Davis’ PayPal account, they’ve decided to take a stab at Lord Strasburger. This time, the hackers managed to eavesdrop a VoIP call that Strasburger made earlier from the comfort of his hotel room.

So far, the hackers had zero issues in their efforts of compromising private data of the politicians – it’s curious to see how they would measure up against Mary Honeyball MEP, who is the EU committee in charge of the “We Love Wi-Fi” campaign. Although Honeyball should know better, the hackers were able to trick her too – this time with a phishing message that seemingly originated from Facebook, asking her to log back into her account.

How to protect yourself on public Wi-Fi

Not surprisingly, the politicians were both impressed and frightened. Neither of them was aware of the attacks that were taking place, and each of them had their sensitive information compromised during the span of this experiment.

At the conclusion of the demonstration, Sean Sullivan, the security advisor from F-Secure outlined several means of protecting yourself when browsing on unsecure public networks. For starters, he’s advised that you keep a different set of login credentials for each web service – a practice that not many of us implement.

Most significantly, however, Sullivan has stressed the importance of using VPNs to protect users accessing unsecure Wi-Fi networks. Implementing VPNs into your browsing habits will save you some serious headache down the road. When using a VPN while browsing on a public network, all of your activity is routed through a separate and secure private network. This new detour of your data will provide you with the security of a private network even if you’re on a public one.

A great thing about VPNs is their ease of use, and range of selection. There are thousands of VPN providers, and picking one that works best for your needs may prove challenging. For that reason, we recommend checking out IPVanish and VyprVPN. Both of these providers have proven themselves to be quite capable, and affordable – and as a nice bonus, they are cross-platform and work on virtually any internet enabled device.

Regardless of which VPN provider you opt for, it’s important to implement the use of VPNs in your browsing practices to stay protected.

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