Online shopping? Be careful using public Wi-Fi

Posted at 6:50 PM, Nov 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-28 19:50:25-05

With Cyber Monday this year expected to be one of the busiest shopping days of all-time, cyber security experts say shoppers should be careful using free public Wi-Fi.

According to the National Retail Federation, around 122 million people across the country expect to shop online on Cyber Monday, with about a quarter doing so on their phones.

“This is the first year in 20 years that I haven't gone shopping on Black Friday,” explained Pam Isnert, who shopped online using her phone while at a River Market coffeehouse on Monday. “Everything is going to be done online."

Isnert and her friend, Jodi Epperson, spent part of the morning shopping together online while they used their phones.

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Epperson said the Cyber Monday deals presented many benefits compared to going out to stores to find gifts.

“I've gotten several books and shoes," she explained. “I don't have to go to the stores, fight with the traffic and deal with people's attitudes. I can find everything I need on a one-stop-shop."

With more and more people deciding to do holiday shopping online, the activity has become more of a target for cyber criminals.

Free public Wi-Fi spots in particular can be targets, especially on Cyber Monday.

“Most public Wi-Fi access points are not built to prevent what's known as peer-to-peer communication,” explained computer security expert Keith Powell. “If I join the public Wi-Fi at the same time, your laptop is on public Wi-Fi. They can see each other and I can scan your device for vulnerabilities."

Powell explained how cyber criminals have gotten sophisticated in their approach to using public Wi-Fi spots, with some shoppers not even knowing they are being targeted.

“They park in the parking lot in a van and they set up a Wi-Fi that looks a lot like the place they are sitting outside of,” he said. “If they assign it the same ID and password as the establishment you are visiting, you could connect to it and not even know."

Powell said a shopper’s credit card information and address could be stolen, or any other shareable information on a person’s device.

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“It can happen anywhere that there is a public hotspot,” he said. “Anywhere where people come in with the expectation that they're going to connect to the Internet."

To protect against a free Wi-Fi cyber crime, Powell said shoppers should make sure to enable their computer’s firewall before going online.

He also said criminals usually target laptops, so shoppers should resort to using other devices.

“If you're out and you want to use public Wi-Fi, use a device like a phone or tablet,” Powell explained. “They are far less likely to give up information over public Wi-Fi."



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