Experts use National Cyber Security Awareness month to warn against using public WiFi

Updated: Oct. 24, 2019 at 4:47 PM EDT
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - For National Cyber Security Awareness month, experts are warning people who use the internet to stay on their guard.

It’s common knowledge to be careful of scams, but many don’t realize the risk they take when connecting to public WiFi networks in places like coffee shops and the airport.

“It’s probably our most frequently asked question is, what is your WiFi password?" said Chuck Camera, barista at Kahwa Coffee in Downtown Sarasota.

Kahwa Coffee recognizes its customers’ need to connect virtually, but they also want to make sure they’re protected from potential hackers, so their WiFi isn’t open or posted anywhere in the shop.

“It’s a service that we would provide of course, we want to give them the WiFi," Cameron explained. "But if anybody outside would be passing by, if they were wanting to try to access the network and they aren’t a customer of ours, yeah we do have a protected network.”

A smart decision, according to cyber security experts who say hackers prey on airports and coffee shops with public WiFi.

“People have been known to sit at public WiFis and there’s various techniques to try to intercept your traffic, if it’s over HTTP and not HTTPS, that would allow them to see what you’re doing and potentially steal your session token, which is you in an application," explained Douglas Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas in Sarasota.

Anyone who is surfing the web should look for “HTTPS” on their web browser. It means the site is encrypted, so it’s really difficult for a hacker to get in.

Websites with only an “HTTP” indicate an open and unprotected site, essentially inviting anyone right in.

“If you have anything [with] an un-encrypted connection, it’s really easy," Logan said. "There’s very simple software that can be run that’s available for anyone that makes it simple to [hack into.]”

The good news is, there’s often a warning sign.

“If you ever get a certificate error in your web browser, you don’t just click continue, because you shouldn’t get those," Logan said. "Especially if you’re at a public WiFi, definitely don’t hit continue on a certificate error, because it probably means that someone is messing with your connection.”

This is why experts said it’s good practice to just avoid entering credit card, banking or any personal information on any site while connected to a public WiFi.

It’s also important to keep security software and firewall up to date to help protect the computer from hackers and always be leery of potential scams.

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