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Broadband users unaware of public wi-fi security flaws

Monday, January 19th 2015 by Hannah Langston

Public wi-fi users should connect to the internet via a provider’s app to avoid being hacked, according to The Cloud’s commercial director.

Speaking to Cable.co.uk, Roger Matthews of the BSkyB-owned wi-fi provider said consumers should use apps that automatically connect to wi-fi, instead of searching for an available network name (known as an SSID) when they visit a venue.

“That makes it more secure because they’re connected to our service rather than searching every time they go to a location for the SSID to see what they can connect to.”

The Cloud provides free wi-fi access in libraries, railway stations and coffee shops. When asked what wi-fi network owners could do to protect connections from being hacked in such places, Mr Matthews said: “I think to an extent it's education for consumers to make sure they’re not just trying every SSID they can, no matter what name is on that, that they are going to recognise known SSIDs or connect through applications which make them more secure”.

He added that consumers are more wary of connecting to the internet in public places, in light of recent hacking attempts and bugs such as Heartbleed that have been reported extensively in the media.

“Generally we’re all on a level of concern about connecting, whether it’s via [public] wi-fi or on our home PC. The fact is that the internet and how we live out our lives today is so ingrained in connectivity that actually I think people should have a level of caution.

“But they also need the investment we make as a provider to make sure our security is up to date and we are fighting any attempts on security, and give people the comfort so they can lead their normal lives on the internet.”

100% digital

Mr Matthews argued that public awareness of internet security will become even more important as the government moves towards 100% digital services.

He said that internet users should be cautious when using public wi-fi to access online government services such as universal credit and also internet banking.

“I think people need to make sure that they are comfortable and do the standard things we do when we’re in the office or anywhere else. For example, when tapping your PIN in to get money out, you make sure you are turned facing people and no one’s looking over your shoulder.

“You still need to make sure if you’re putting your bank details in [online] you’re doing it through a secure connection,” he added.

However, he explained: “as technology steps forward and devices will more automatically link on to the SSID and location, people will feel more confident about the security of what they’re doing”.

Mr Matthews' comments come as it was revealed an internet activist had tricked security and defense experts into joining an open wi-fi network set up to draw attention to the issue of network monitoring in Sweden.

Hacker, Gustav Nipe, created the un-secured wi-fi network called 'Open Guest' at a conference last week. He was able to view the site visits, emails and text messages of up to 100 delegates, including journalists and security experts.

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