Combating the Security Risks of the Internet

What are the primary risks that lurk in the corners of the internet, ready to attack or fool you to cause you varied forms of damage, financial being just the only one? Read our article to know what all dangers are present when you are online and how you can protect yourself from these dangers.

We don't always think about it, but the truth is, the internet is not always reliable in terms of safety. Even when you browse the web from your home network, your activity is still vulnerable to anyone who would like to access it. If you tend to use public WiFi, the security risks increase significantly.

Many consumers appreciate public WiFi for its convenience. It's not uncommon to choose a cafe, restaurant, or lounge based on its WiFi availability. Many people, however, don't fully grasp the security risks that they face on such networks. While some people understand there are certain dangers, many also assume that their online security is the responsibility of someone else – the establishment hosting the network, the websites they visit, or even the ISP (Internet Service Provider).

The reality, however, is that none of those parties can guarantee your safety. While some establishments prohibit online eavesdropping in their terms of service, their ability to enforce that is limited. Ultimately, users are responsible for their own safety when it comes to public networks. It is best to know what you are up against in order to adequately protect your online activity.

The Problems

Easy Access: WiFi Snooping
WiFi snooping (or sniffing) is a significant security risk due to the vast consequences it can have and the ease with which it can be carried out. How easy? All it takes is basic computer proficiency, some easily accessible software, and the patience to sit through a few tutorials.

WiFi snooping basically takes programs like Firesheep or Wireshark, which are meant to help network administrators spot anomalies or problems, and uses them to access other users' information. This information can include usernames and passwords (in plain text) as well as cookies. With this sort of information, would-be criminals can access other people's accounts or impersonate them in online sessions. Sensitive information, private communication, and other account-related information become available to hackers to utilize any way they want.

Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks
A step above WiFi snooping is MitM attacks. While these can technically be carried out remotely through browsers and malware, public networks offer an alternative means of completing the task.

MitM attacks involve intercepting the information exchanged between other users' devices and websites, but unlike snooping, which simply involves looking at and using that information, MitM attacks can involve tampering with that data. This allows the middlemen to alter communications and redirect users – which could have more immediate and adverse effects. MitM attacks have been used to steal considerable amounts of money from large corporations, and with access to bank details or online transaction information, the same could easily be done to individual users.

The unsecured connections of public networks make it easier for malicious parties to spread malware to other users. Malware is software that is created to inflict harm to the device and data of the intended recipient. There are many types of malware, including viruses, Trojans, spyware, and ransomware.

Unlike the two previous methods, which involve intercepting information exchanged between computers, malware can infiltrate a computer to access information, even if it's not being sent out. Alternatively, malware can be used to infect browsers and capture data, even after the user has changed connections.

As you browse the internet, more often than not, you will encounter advertisements splattered all over the internet screen. Unless you have them blocked through your browser, many links you click on will have pop-up ads that slow down the loading process of the requested website.

Now, take those ads and fill them with malware and you have malvertisement. Malvertising is one of the current ways in which cybercriminals are gaining access to users' data and personal information, as well as downloading malware onto that person's device.

There are two common ways that malvertisement is used. The first is through pop-up ads. These types of ads are more than just annoying; they are very harmful to your device. Quite commonly, pop-up ads are malware that could do damage to your computer. An even worse problem, though, is the fact that these ads could infect your computer the moment they pop up.

The other type of malvertisement and one that is quite concerning is through advertisements on legitimate websites. Cybercriminals can buy ad space on sites you trust. What you would think is a safe advertisement is in fact malware. Quite often these ads start off as legitimate to gain a trusted reputation. After a while, the cybercriminal will code the advertisement with malware to infect anyone who clicks it.

The Solutions

Since one of the main problems with public WiFi is the vulnerability that comes from lack of encryption, the most basic step you can take, then, is to choose encrypted options as much as possible. Go for networks with WPA2 or WPA security, use secure website connections (https://), and avoid sending sensitive information on public networks.

You should also have comprehensive security software, which means both antivirus and anti-malware programs. There are several reliable options for both free and paid software. What's more important is that you keep them up to date; the database they use to identify viruses and malware is one of the most important aspects of how they function.

However, your best solution to combat all of these dangers is through a VPN (Virtual Private Network), like from Hotspot Shield. Once installed, a VPN creates a tunnel between your device and the connected network. All of your device's data that flows through the tunnel is encrypted, secured, and virtually invisible to any unwanted monitoring.

A VPN is also capable of changing your device's IP (Internet Protocol) address – used to determine the location of the device. Once changed, your IP address will make it look like you are somewhere else, making it difficult for others to track you.

Although the internet is a way of staying connected to friends, family, and the world around us, it is also a dangerous space that is difficult to monitor. It doesn't take much to fall victim to malicious attacks, and by the time you notice some attacks, it can already be too late. Protect your online activity with passwords, security software, being cautious of what links you click, and for the best protection, installing a VPN.


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