By David Prattent

We’ve all been there. The battery on your smartphone is in the red and you don’t have your charger with you.  And just to compound the agony, you need to make calls.  Just before you have a meltdown, you remember that there is a public charging station at the nearby shopping centre.

Or, you are on Hay Street and before you buy your partner that wonderful piece of jewellery for her birthday, you need check your credit card balance.  Happily, the City of Perth provides a public Wi-Fi service which enables you to log on and get the details.

Yippee! Thank goodness, these services are lifesavers.

But maybe they are not always.

You need to understand the risks you take when you plug into a public charging station or use public Wi-Fi.

Public charging stations

These stations are becoming more common and are available at places such as airports, hotels, shopping centres, coffee shops and a host of other places.  Some trains even have them.

Most people assume that the charging station is only used for providing power to a mobile device.  It can, however, be hacked and be used not only to charge your device but also to steal data and, possibly, infect your device with malicious software (malware).

Cybersecurity experts have recently noted that public stations are more and more being targeted by hackers. This is particularly applicable to airports and other parts of the transportation industry.  Sometimes it looks really innocent.  You are at the airport, your charger is sealed in your luggage, so you pop over to the charging station.  As luck would have it, some idiot before you has walked off and left their charging cable in the USB port.  Bingo!  Problem solved.

Except there is every chance it was left there deliberately by a hacker.  The cable is actually a malicious device which proceeds to remove data form your device and, just for good measure, infects it so that it will always hand over any new information.  Where did my bank balance go?  Who’s doing all this spending on my credit card?  Why am I delinquent on a loan I didn’t know I had?

So how can make yourself safer? Here are a few tips:

Public Wi-Fi

Publicly available Wi-Fi is normally free, convenient and helps you stay connected when you are out of range of your own network.  However, these are not safe services and have become an avenue for cybercriminals to steal information, including credit card details, passwords and other personal credentials.  The same features which make free Wi-Fi hotspots desirable for you and I, make them desirable for hackers because it requires no authentication to establish a network connection.

The biggest threat to free Wi-Fi security is the “man-in-the-middle” attack.  The hacker can access any unencrypted information you are sending or receiving including emails, credit card information and more.

What should you do?  Here are a few tips:

Remember, there is no privacy on public Wi-Fi.

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