For most people with a smartphone, laptop and a car or bike open wifi networks are a part of life, right? You head to Starbucks, Panera Bread or some other locale and they have a sign that says “Free WIFI”. So most of us just connect up to that SSID with the strongest signal and off we go to checking email, logging into the corporate VPN, logging in to Salesforce and on and on. Free WIFI is great. It makes our lives easier. But what most of you forget or don’t care to address is that OPEN WIFI is possibly the most dangerous connection you can make with your smartphone or laptop.
When you connect to an SSID that is entitled “Panera1-Free” but you see three or four other open SSIDs, how do you know which of those access points is actually Panera bread? And if only one of them is Panera Bread’s, then who do the others belong to and what information of mine can they collect, see, use, sell? I am here to tell you that they can collect, see, use and sell a whole bunch of information if you are passing through a collection access point. Remember my earlier post about Firesheep? You also want to know whether or not someone is sniffing your traffic.
What are the BIGCOS doing about this? Recently, a push has come about to create a standard for securing open wifi. This program is called SOWA (Secure Open Wireless Access) and incorporates using some code to determine if you are actually connected to the Wifi network that you think you are connecting to. It is pretty simple conceptually but it is going to take some time to be adopted and put into use. IBM X-Force and some independent researchers got together and put a presentation on at Black Hat. They are moving in the right direction but this is going to take a while…..
So, what you can do right now: Only connect to secure WLANS that require passwords and are encrypted. Turn off your wireless on smart phones and laptops when not connecting to a known secure wireless network.
Happy wireless surfing.