Security Concerns on WiFi Networks – How do we overcome them?

We all love the convenience of WiFi to stay connected anywhere our laptops take us. In fact, you may be reading this article on your wireless-enabled laptop now. But just as the availability of WiFi services proliferate, so does the number of hackers ready to take advantage of unsuspecting road warriors. Now, in addition to long check-in and security lines, the uninformed have one more thing to be anxious about at the airport–identity thieves.

The major concern of users at Wi-Fi hotspots, beyond not being able to connect, is security. These types of wireless networks are inherently “unsecure.” This is because encryption methods such as WEP and WPA, which are usually used to protect private wireless networks, aren’t implemented due to the complexities of supporting users. Furthermore, using WEP or WPA means you’ll have to advertise the “private” encryption key(s). This kills the whole idea of using encryption, because wireless eavesdroppers then have the key(s) to quickly decode the Wi-Fi hotspot traffic.

WiFi hotspots are usually ripe for exploitation by hackers. Once a free WiFi hotspot is launched, there suddenly sprouts up a couple of more “free” WiFi networks that promise to allow you to access the Internet for free. More often than not, these happen to be fake WiFi hotspots that invite you to get fooled into logging onto their networks. After that, stealing your personal and sensitive data is hardly a magic trick.

What’s worse is most people have the habit of instruct their operating systems to “remember” a particular network (or SSID). Now, if one any of their subsequent visits, one of these fake WiFi networks configure the name of their SSID as that of the one already given permission to, on a person’s computer, the computer gets logged onto the network automatically, without the knowledge of the user.

Users who connect to these “free” networks are at great risk of experiencing a “channeling” attack. “Channeling” is a common practice used by hackers and identity thieves to conduct man-in-the-middle attacks, with the objective of stealing user names, passwords, and other sensitive data transmitted by the user. The practice is disturbingly simple to carry out: By setting up an unauthorized access point in an airport lounge, hackers can easily trap passwords and other information without the user’s knowledge.

Many Wi-Fi hotspot users don’t understand the issues related to using public wireless networks, and so they don’t take any steps to ensure their personal documents, privacy and identity are safe. The same goes with the people installing the hotspots. They may not be aware of the issues they face, or the fact that they can take a few steps to help secure user access. All it needs is a bit of prevention from the user’s side and public WiFi usage can be so very enjoyable.

  1. Always connect to an advertised WiFi network only
    Whenever you wish to connect to a public WiFi network in an establishment (be it a hotel, mall, a coffee shop or even a bus stop), connect only to a WiFi network (SSID) whose name is publicly advertised by the same establishment. In case it isn’t advertised, approach the reception or the store owner, for details on the WiFi network.
  2. Shut off your WiFi card, when not in use
    It is always best practice to turn off your WiFi when you do not need a Wireless network. It is better not to just “stay on the network”, at least not on a public WiFi network.
  3. Never enter a password unless the URL is encrypted
    Now, this is a bit trickier than the other precautions listed in this blog post. Every time you land up on a website that asks you to input your password, be it your email, bank website or otherwise, always take a glance at the URL address bar of your browser. What does it say? Does the url start with a ‘http’ or a ‘https’. Now, what ‘https’ does is encrypt the data that you send over the Internet. Yes, that includes your password too. So, if the URL starts with ‘https’, simply stop worrying and log in. However, if it says ‘http’, then try changing it to ‘https’ and reload the page. Most email providers and all bank website provide SSL security over the web (the ‘s’ in ‘https’ stands for ‘secured’). So, this should not be a problem. However, in case the website doesn’t provide a SSL login, then it is better to wait till you get to your ‘Home’ or ‘Office’ networks to log into those services.
  4. Use a VPN connection, whenever possible, to encrypt your data
    One of the most common tools that users of hotspots neglect to use is a Virtual Private Network (VPN) application. It’s ironic, because good VPN software is free, and once you’ve installed one, entering one password can put what you’re doing in a secure tunnel.
  5. Do not allow sharing of folders and files
    Turn off your shared folders and files when you are on a public network. This is to ensure that amateur hackers don’t end up logging into your system and steal your personal files.
  6. Run a comprehensive security suite
    We can never stress enough on the necessity of a security suite that includes a good anti-virus software,and an anti-phishing software.
  7. Keep your Firewall running
    Firewall software, for blocking hackers and other threats, exists within all major operating systems, Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. The firewall built into both Linux and Mac OS X are actually very good. Windows users who want to find a good, free solution can go with Zone Alarm Free.
  8. Avoid Internet Explorer
    There nothing personal against Microsoft, but one of the big reasons people gravitate to browsers like Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera and Safari is that they are simply less of a target for hackers, and also have fewer exposed vulnerabilities that can be exploited.

So, as you can see, “free” WiFi hotspots do pose a couple of security challenges that hinder the growth of the WiFi sector in the larger perspective. But if we continue to play it safe and smart, we can stay one step ahead of them and enjoy all the comforts of a secure WiFi world.

How do businesses survive, by providing free WiFi Internet?

We all love free WiFi, don’t we? Today, with the increasing advent of WiFi enabled gadgets like the brand new iPad, iPhones, Blackberrys and Sony PSPs, CIOL has already predicted a ten-fold growth in such devices, within 2014! The WiFi market is predicted to touch $1 billion in another 2 years. And thus, it’s no surprise that a lot of public WiFi networks have started to sprout up, in your vicinity.

While most of the WiFi enabled hotels charge you for Internet access, there are also a lot of establishments that have started providing WiFi access to their guests for free. Be it malls, coffee shops, apparel stores, or even restaurants, they have all started to jump into the band wagon. Now, why would anyone provide WiFi Internet access for free, you may ask. Let us try to figure out what could the reasons be.

1. Most free WiFi services are accompanied by advertisements. For example, you might be sitting in the cafetaria of a mall, working on your laptop and munching on your lunch, while there is a Shahrukh Khan movie that’s being played in their in-house movie theater, that you might not be aware of. Now, if you are a Shahrukh Khan fan, what do you figure are the chances of you buying a ticket for the movie, there itself? Moreover, suppose in the same mall, there is a 50% sale going on in a branded apparel store, on the floor above the cafeteria. Now, if you visited the place just to work and grab a bit, chances are low that you might want to window shop. But if you are suddenly aware of a discount sale of this kind, there is a high chance that you end up visiting that store, isn’t it?

2. Have you ever heard of contextual advertisements? These are basically adverts that are tailor-made to be served to you. Allow me to elucidate. Since you are using the establishment’s network to access the Internet, it is possible to write small pieces of code that can gauge the kind of content that you are interested in, by analyzing the websites that you visit, and then serve you advertisements that are in tune with the programs analysis. Sounds spooky? Don’t worry, it is just a program that flushes out the usage data the moment you log out, and no human can ever know which websites you visited. And well, think of Google who had mastered the art of contextual advertisement better than any of us. Have you ever been frightened to use Google as your default search engine? Moreover, contextual advertising is the future. It’s for nothing that today advertising on Facebook costs more than what it does on Google :-)

3. Enough of malls. Let us take up an example of restaurants and coffee shops, now. The very reason for these establishments to provide free Internet access is so that you spend more of your time in the cafe, working, enjoying the conditioned air, and sipping on a coffee or munching on a brownie. That’s it! More you stay engaged in their stores, more are the chances of their sales shooting the roof, and thus increases customer stickiness.

4. With the high adoption rate of smartphones and PDAs, the number of brands serving mobile versions of their websites has also gone high. And since mobile devices are much easier to carry, than a traditional laptop, or even a netbook, both the need and usage of public WiFi Internet access points have shot sky high.

5. if you check out this blog post by WATBlog, where they wrote about the latest series of AC buses that BEST is planning to come up with, you would understand how powerfully WiFi services can be utilized to target advertisements to the users. Location based advertisements to the bus travelers – brilliant, isn’t it?

So, what do you think? If you too own a business establishment where your customers visit regularly, it’s high time you too started providing WiFi Internet access to them!

WiFi Scenario in India

Internet seems to have become one of the most basic necessities of the man. Doesn’t matter which walk of life you belong to, you have an use for the Internet. Whether you need a bandwidth of 64kbps, or whether a fat 4 Mbps is what gets the work done, you do have subscribed to an ISP to take care of your Internet needs. The demand for Internet has grown manifolds, in the last couple of years. According to SiliconIndia, the number of Internet users grew from 42 million in September 2008 to 52 million in September 2009. This surge in number has been primarily due to the increased numbers of the users in the remote urban pockets (small metros and towns) and among lower socio-economic classes. This development has been more striking this year as the combined usage of these geographies and classes have overtaken top cities and higher socio-economic classes in numbers. This finding clearly indicates that the Internet has reached to remote masses in urban India.

The overall Indian Wi-Fi market (including WLAN hardware, systems integration and software services) is predicted to grow from the current $41.57 million to exceed $744 million by 2012 (CAGR of 61.4%). The necessary market drivers are in place to propel the growth, development and deployment of Wi-Fi into a mainstream technology across the country.

With the Indian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology declaring 2007 as the Year of Broadband, the priorities are clearly set. The ensuing battle for market share currently on in the mobile space will likely spill over into broadband as a nation starved for connectivity will begin network roll outs. Over the next few years this will create a new digital India with ubiquitous broadband connectivity, both wireless and wired, teeming with an always-connected young generation that is mobile and empowered. At the forefront of this transformation will be a familiar wireless broadband technology: Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi is not new to India and has been deployed in enterprises, campuses and SOHO sectors for several years. However, now more than ever before it is clear that all the enablers for creating a sustained Wi-Fi network will emerge. The availability of a robust national data network backbone remained somewhat unutilized all these years due to the following reasons: high costs of data circuits and generally high bandwidth costs. This has changed significantly in the last year with a general drop of over 70% in data link prices.

Undergraduate students and young professionals are picking up the laptop as their first computer purchase. This is a marked difference from the earlier days where desktop PCs was the trend. The PC segment continues to grow at about 22-24% per year but the laptop seems likely to continue to grow at 100% rates over the next two to three years. With an estimated 80% laptops shipped being Wi-Fi enabled, there will be a number of mobile Wi-Fi commuters in the cities.

Although the near-term opportunity for Wi-Fi is primarily oriented toward traditional data applications (web surfing, email) via a PC, India’s mobile revolution has already generated a cellular subscriber population of 525 million (as of December 2009). It was just a couple of days back that the bidding on nationwide 3G spectrum has ended. This shall enable a whole community of data-capable, multi-band smart phones mobile devices to enter the market. The country will see a proliferation of Wi-Fi end points over the next three years driving demand for ubiquitous wireless points of presence.

The emerging Indian broadband market is on the cusp of a huge growth curve. And Wi-Fi is perfectly positioned to provide instant broadband access today from devices that are already available, over unlicensed spectrum in a safe, secure and reliable manner.

This is exactly where Airlink Wireless fits in. We are a leading neutral host wireless service provider operating with nation wide network, providing services to innumerable locations across the country. Our solution is the most comprehensive and proven product that is backed by a world-class centralized management with network & security management platform and a local customer support infrastructure. We also provide a complete end-to-end project management and service delivery with a Managed Services option that minimizes ongoing operational costs. Our experience in managing over 10,000 hotspots across the globe has helped us form a strong opinion that Wireless Broadband is key to a prompt Internet connectivity. We enable WiFi networks at your business center. In return, you manage to leverage on WiFi as a market differentiator, and delight customers with unique services. Some of advantages of our services are – plug ‘n’ play WiFi network solutions, next generation IP service delivery platform, and also 24/7 managed support. What more, with WiFi services at your disposal, you can increase stickiness for your existing customers, get additional revenue through VAS and WiFi access packages, and also improve your brand visibility.