Timothy R. Primrose, Mobile Forensic Analyst
It’s spooky season, and while you might be afraid of ghouls and vampires, you might be missing out on a scarier thing: hacking. Depending on the hacking technique, tools that a hacker needs in order to steal data from their victims are fairly cheap. One of the most common ways hackers steal personal data is through the weak security of public Wi-Fi.
About 10 years ago, I flew to Florida out of a small airport in Delaware. While waiting for my flight, I connected to the free public Wi-Fi and scrolled through Facebook for an hour or so. Once on the plane, I put my phone in airplane mode. When the plane landed in Florida and I turned off airplane mode, I received over 40 text messages, some regarding a free iPad and others alerting me that my Facebook was hacked. While connected to the free public Wi-Fi at the airport in Delaware, someone hacked my cellphone and gained access to my Facebook. The hacker sent a message to every person on my friends list that provided a link to receive a free Apple iPad. The link itself lead users to a virus, so any of my friends that fell for this trap put their own data and information at risk. At the time, I was inexperienced in the field of technology and did not know how to take the proper preventative measures needed to avoid putting my data at risk. I did not understand network security, IP addresses, or VPNs.
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is utilized to mask a user’s actions and protect their privacy. It not only allows a user to access the internet safely, but anonymously too. While free VPN services exist, subscription-based VPNs are safer and more reputable. The VPN service provides a subscriber with a temporary IP address every time they activate their VPN and browse the internet. This prevents websites and the government from tracking a user’s actions and interests. The user’s identity remains hidden since their actual IP address is undisclosed. The temporary IP address is different every time and may even deceive a website into thinking the user is accessing their website from Italy instead of their basement in Wisconsin. A VPN can be used for a computer or a cellphone to prevent hackers from accessing personal data. Be aware of who you are sharing a Wi-Fi network connection with. Hackers can access your data without your knowledge or consent. I wish you safe web browsing and a happy Halloween!
Timothy R. Primrose, Mobile Forensic Analyst with DJS Associates, Inc., can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.