From Starbucks to Panera Bread, Wendy’s to McDonald’s, almost everywhere you go has Wi-Fi available for those who are constantly on the go and in need of an internet hook-up. For those who use a few extra key strokes and mouse clicks to manually connect themselves to this relatively free form of the internet, using Wi-Fi hotspots such as these are no big deal. The others in society who prefer to automatically connect may be in for a bit of a surprise.
Most wireless devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones have network software that will automatically connect to any access points they remember. Basically, when your laptop is turned on at your favorite coffee shop, the wireless radio will instantly send out requests looking for that coffee shop’s wireless network. Convenient as this may be, this little convenience could potentially leave your computer’s security very threatened; especially if you ignore other low-maintenance security musts.
As quickly as you can search for a Wi-Fi Pineapple on Google, you can just as easily buy one if you have about $100 to spare. Though the name sounds innocuous enough, a Pineapple can be a hacker’s dream toy. Available in standard, pro, and elite versions, the Pineapple has the ability to mask itself as any wireless access point the owner wants it to. When set up as a fake access point, the Pineapple can launch man-in-the-middle attacks which essentially steal passwords and other data. This is obviously problematic if you like to do internet banking or shopping while in a public setting such as this.
The Wi-Fi Pineapple’s inventor, Darren Kitchen, created the device to be used mainly by government and security professionals who do penetration testing on their own computer networks. Sadly, there are always people out there who can ruin a good thing by using it for nefarious purposes – like becoming a professional data thief. Although Kitchen claims to not condone using his invention as a “hotspot honeypot,” he is more than willing to continue developing and selling this item to the public. The most current Wi-Fi Pineapple is on its fourth version.
So how does one protect their passwords and other personal data from hackers who use a Pineapple? One way is to buy a subscription for software like Private WiFi. This software will create a secure connection and run invisibly in the background while your wireless device uses the internet. The best free way to avoid having your wireless device infiltrated is to make sure it’s not set up to automatically connect to the internet. By not allowing your laptop, tablet or smartphone to randomly connect to a saved Wi-Fi hotspot, you will greatly decrease the chances of connecting to a faked wireless access point. Because there is no easy way of telling the difference between the real access point and a masked Pineapple access point, it is best to refrain from online banking and shopping where passwords or credit card information could be easily exploited.
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