Internet Cafe – Are You At Risk?

An Internet cafe or a local Wi-Fi Hotspot may seem like the ideal place to catch up on your correspondence and friends but how safe are they?  Well the answer for most is not very.  There are a combination of things going on which means it coud be potentially dangerous to use them without first knowing a few facts and how to protect yourself.

Firstly with many people connecting to a single access point there is an inherent risk that one of those people may not be simply checking their e-mail.  In the networked world there is software called a “Network analyser”.  This software has the sole job of enabling IT professionals track down difficult network problems they work by allowing us to see the information which is coded onto the network cable or travelling to and fro from the access point.  This software also allows a cracker to look at packets of data in the same way.  A small amount of juggling and the cracker can happily see all of the unencrypted data which is traveling to a fro from each device connected to the access point. 

Now our legitimate user logs onto say a web-based e-mail application and checks his mail.  The username and password that is sent to the web mail site is sent down the wire in an unencrypted format, this means that the cracker can simply read the username and password.  It is that simple.

The way to protect yourself against this is simple.  Use an encrypted VPN tunnel to a trusted site.  So now our legitimate user logs onto the same wireless access point inside his favorite cafe, however this time, as soon as they are connected they establish an IPSEC Encrypted VPN tunnel back to their office.  This sends al of the traffic from the laptop including internet traffic to the VPN endpoint, for our example this is the users office.  Now all the cracker can see is an encrypted hash of information.  Even if the site has no encryption, the information is still encrypted, sent down the VPN, unencrypted and passed to the website. 

If you would like to know more about safety on the Internet and from public locations please contact one of our team who will be happy to help.