Would you give up your firstborn child or favorite pet to use free WiFi? Of course not. Sounds crazy, right? But in an independent investigation conducted on behalf of F-Secure, several people agreed to do just that – just to be able to instantly, freely connect to the Internet while on the go.
For the experiment, we asked Finn Steglich of the German penetration testing company, SySS, to build a WiFi hotspot, take it out on the streets of London, and set it up and wait for folks to connect. The purpose? To find out how readily people would connect to an unknown WiFi hotspot. (You can view our complete report, see the video and listen to the podcast below.)
Thing is, public hotspots are insecure. Public WiFi simply wasn’t built with 21st century security demands in mind. When you use public WiFi without any added security measures, you leak data about yourself from your device. We know it, but we wanted to find out in general how well people out on the street know, whether or not they take precautions, and what kind of data they would actually leak.
We also enlisted the help of freelance journalist Peter Warren of the UK’s Cyber Security Research Institute, who came along to document it all. Accompanying the two was Sean Sullivan, F-Secure’s Security Advisor.
What we found was that people readily and happily connected, unaware their Internet activity was being spied on by the team. In just a half-hour period, 250 devices connected to the hotspot. Most of these were probably automatic connections, without their owner even realizing it. 33 people actively sent Internet traffic, doing web searches, sending email, etc. The team collected 32 MB of traffic – which was promptly destroyed in the interest of consumer privacy.
The researchers were a bit surprised when they found that they could actually read the text of emails sent over a POP3 network, along with the addresses of the sender and recipient, and even the password of the sender. Encryption, anyone? If you aren’t already using it, you should be!
For part of the experiment, the guys enabled a terms and conditions (T&C) page that people needed to agree to before being able to use the hotspot. One of the terms stipulated that the user must give up their firstborn child or most beloved pet in exchange for WiFi use. In the short time the T&C page was active, six people agreed to the outlandish clause.
Of course, this simply illustrates the lack of attention people pay to such pages. Terms and conditions are usually longer than most people want to take time to read, and often they’re difficult to understand. We, of course, won’t enforce the clause and make people follow through with surrendering their loved ones – but this should give us all pause: What are we really signing up for when we check the “agree” box at the end of a long list of T&C’s we don’t read? There’s a need for more clarity and transparency about what’s actually being collected or required of the user.
So what’s really the issue here? What’s going to happen to your data, anyway? The problem is there are plenty of criminals who love to get their hands on WiFi traffic to collect usernames, passwords, etc. It’s easy and cheap enough for them to set up their own hotspot somewhere (the whole hotspot setup only cost SySS about 200 euros), give it a credible-looking name, and just let the data flow in. And even if a hotspot is provided by a legitimate business or organization, criminals can still use “sniffing” tools to spy on others’ Internet traffic.
So be warned: Public WiFi is NOT secure or safe. But we’re not saying don’t use it, we’re saying don’t use it without proper security. A good VPN will provide encryption so even if someone tries, they can’t tap into your data.
F-Secure Freedome is our super cool, super simple wi-fi security product, or VPN. Freedome creates a secure, encrypted connection from your device and protects you from snoops and spies, wherever you go and whatever WiFi you use. (Bonus: It also includes tracking protection from Internet marketers, browsing protection to block malicious sites and apps, and lets you choose your own virtual location so you can view your favorite web content even when you’re abroad.)
Still don’t believe that public WiFi poses risks? Take a closer look next time you’re faced with a terms and conditions page for public WiFi hotspot.
“A good number of open wi-fi providers take the time to tell you in their T&C that there are inherent risks with wireless communications and suggest using a VPN,” Sullivan says. “So if you don’t take it from me, take it from them.”
Check out the full report here (PDF): Tainted Love – How Wi-Fi Betrays Us
Listen to the podcast, featuring interviews with Victor Hayes, the “Father of WiFi,” our Sean Sullivan and others:
Disclaimer: During the course of this experiment, no user was compromised at any point nor user data exposed in a way that it could have been subject to misuse. We have not logged any user information, and during the experiment a lawyer supervised all our activities to avoid breaching any laws.
Video by Magneto Films
When it comes to technology, students are more connected than ever. But there also seems to be a serious disconnect between what kids and parents think about teens online activity. A recent survey of online teens conducted for the Cybersecurity Alliance found that 6 of 10 students had created social media accounts without their parents knowledge. But only 28 percent of parents suspected their offspring had secret accounts. This suggests a lot of parents are just plain oblivious of their kids' online sneakiness. And other findings are equally troubling. While two-thirds of parents expected their kids would report any online incident that made them uncomfortable, only one-third of students said they would report such incidents. And just under half of the teens said they'd seek their parents help for problems online compared to the 65 percent of moms and dads who expected their teens to share their online problems with them "most" or "all the time." This confusion between what teens and parents think about online conduct suggests that parents need to be more proactive in preparing their kids for the challenges of having access to the world through devices that fit in our pockets. One strategy is to establish a history of discussing technology with you by racking as many positive interactions related to online life before your kids are faced with a crisis. The better they feel about talking to you about tech, the better chances they'll reach out to you when they're facing a real crisis. What's a better excuse to talk technology than when you're send your kid back to school? Here are few topics of discussion to consider before the first class begins. Parental controls If you're worried about the content your younger kids can see as they use the family PC, you can manage that through parental controls feature. This gives you a chance to explain that you want to protect them from inappropriate sites and strangers so you can feel confident about them having fun the web. But parental control doesn't just have to be a negative. The power to control your kids' time online, means you can also set up online reward time -- such as an hour or two when homework is done. Apps Downloading an app to your mobile device could mean you're inviting strangers to access your phone. Some apps may demand access to your kid’s camera, microphone, contacts and photos. Use the Application Privacy feature to go through your apps together to see what kind of permissions are being accessed. Reviewing privacy settings of social networking sites also provides a chance for your kids to ask questions or express concerns. Privacy There are several apps your kids can use to make sure a mobile device's data stays private, even if it gets lost. You can use Android's locate, lock and wipe feature to help find a misplaced device or to delete all personal data in a worst case scenario. Make sure your kids know that connecting over "free Wi-Fi" can expose your data and possibly even your passwords to strangers. Avoid that by connecting via mobile networks or by using a VPN app. Also make sure that they lock their devices using an unguessable code. Security hygiene Some parents need basic security reminders as badly as kids do, whether they're just getting online or heading to university. So remind yourself and your kids to use strong unique passwords for all their most important accounts. Your passwords shouldn't use any words from the dictionary or anything someone could guess by looking at your social media. Remind them that "free" online is almost always a bad sign. Don't click on links and attachments in emails that you weren't expecting. And remind your kids that anything they post online, even on sites that promise to delete things after twenty-four hours, could be seen by anyone -- even your parents. An open and honest conversation reduces chances that a uncomfortable situation online will become a crisis. So before your kids go back to school, start talking about how important it is to you that they connect safely, especially when you're not watching them.
A little iPhone history was made this month -- a iOS device was infected by just clicking on a link. This sort of attack had previously only worked on devices where the owner had purposely installed a "jailbreak" hack. So before you do anything -- even read the rest of this post -- you should update your iOS software to the latest version of iOS 9, or iOS 10 beta, which has some nice new privacy features. Here's how this historic attack happened, according to The Verge: Earlier this month, an Emirati human rights activist named Ahmed Mansoor got a suspicious text. It promised new details of torture in the country’s state prisons, along with a link to follow if he was interested. If Mansoor had followed the link, it would have jailbroken his phone on the spot and implanted it with malware, capable of logging encrypted messages, activating the microphone and secretly tracking its movements. To our cyber security advisor Erka Koivunen, this is a glaring example of a threat that is not "advanced" -- as in APT, advanced persistent threat. Think about what goes into a real APT. "They do reconnaissance properly and understand what the victim is susceptible to. They have good timing and only create visible noise when it suits their interest," he told us. "And they have a plan B ready in case someone starts snooping their activities." Here, the the most exploitable iPhone vulnerability ever known has now been exposed and patched -- for what? It's a bit baffling to Erka who compares it to throwing "expensive exploits at this guy like kids throwing rocks." You just don't see zero-day vulnerabilities like this -- especially on what had been one of the more secure platforms available -- that often. This has some security researchers thinking: Perverse incentives: Should I take up political activism so I get more interesting 0day sent my way? /me wonders — halvarflake (@halvarflake) August 26, 2016 //platform.twitter.com/widgets.js So, if you haven't already, update now. And if you're involved in politics in *any way* whatsoever, realize that someone will try to hack you -- sooner or later. So beware of those links in strange texts and email attachments in general. [Image by Sean MacEntee via Flickr]
Bitcoin has not only changed the economics of cybercrime by providing crooks with an encrypted, nearly anonymous payment system autonomous from any central bank. It's also changed researchers' ability to track how much money criminals are making. "Bitcoin is based on Blockchain, and Blockchain is a public ledger of transactions. So all Bitcoin transactions are public," explains Mikko Hyppönen, F-Secure's Chief Research Officer. "Now, you don’t know who is who. But we can see money moving around, and we can see the amounts." Every victim of Ransomware -- malware that encrypts files and demands a payment for their release -- is given a unique wallet to transfer money into. Once paid, some ransomware gangs move the bitcoins to a central wallet. "We've been monitoring some of those wallets," Mikko says. "And we see Bitcoins worth millions and millions. We see a lot of money." Watching crooks rake in so much money, tax-free, got him thinking: "I began to wonder if there are in fact cybercrime unicorns." A cybercrime unicorn? (View this as a PDF) A tech unicorn is a privately held tech company valued at more than a billion dollars. Think Uber, AirBNB or Spotify -- only without the investors, the overhead and oversight. (Though the scam is so profitable that some gangs actually have customer service operations that could rival a small startup.) "Can we use this comparison model to cybercrime gangs?" Mikko asks. "We probably can’t." It's simply too hard to cash out. Investors in Uber have people literally begging to buy their stakes in the company. Ransomware gangs, however, have to continually imagine ways to turn their Bitcoin into currency. "They buy prepaid cards and then they sell these cards on Ebay and Craigslist," he says. "A lot of those gangs also use online casinos to launder the money." But even that's not so easy, even if the goal is to sit down at a online table and attempt to lose all your money to another member of your gang. "If you lose large amounts of money you will get banned. So the gangs started using bots that played realistically and still lose – but not as obviously." Law enforcement is well aware of extremely alluring economics of this threat. In 2015, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received "2,453 complaints identified as Ransomware with losses of over $1.6 million." In 2016, hardly has a month gone by without a high-profile case like Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center paying 40 Bitcoin, about $17,000 USD at the time, to recover its files. And these are just the cases we're hearing about. The scam is so effective that it seemed that the FBI was recommending that victims actually pay the ransom. But it turned out their answer was actually more nuanced. "The official answer is the FBI does not advise on whether or not people should pay," Sean Sullivan, F-Secure Security Advisor, writes. "But if victims haven’t taken precautions… then paying is the only remaining alternative to recover files." What sort of precautions? For Mikko, the answer obvious. "Backups. If you get hit you restore yesterday’s backup and carry on working. It could be more cumbersome if it’s not just one workstation, if your whole network gets hit. But of course you should always have good, up to date, offline backups. And 'offline' is the key!" What's also obvious is that too few people are prepared when Ransomware hits. Barring any disruptions to the Bitcoin market, F-Secure Labs predicts this threat will likely persist, with even more targeted efforts designed to elicit even greater sums. If you end up in an unfortunate situation when your files are held hostage, remember that you're dealing with someone who thinks of cybercrime as a business. So you can always try to negotiate. What else do you have to lose?