Using public Wi-Fi safely starts with us

The ease with which our reporter had his laptop hacked while using public Wi-Fi in a Dubai restaurant shows a vulnerability that too many of us did not even know existed. Fortunately for Emmanuel Samoglou, the incident was orchestrated by “former ethical hacker” Jason Hart rather than a group of cybercriminals and instead of having his identity stolen and bank accounts emptied, he merely received a salutary lesson about online security.

Considering how much of our lives is now online and the increasing number of public places where Wi-Fi is available, awareness of the risks implicit of this new high-connectivity world is clearly lagging behind. As our report also noted, more than 80 per cent of us fail to change our habits when using public Wi-Fi compared to in our own homes.

There is always a tendency for residents to grow complacent because of the UAE’s very low levels of crime, and the online realm is no different. But low crime does not mean no crime and each of us has the primary responsibility to safeguard our valuables, be they physical or virtual.

There is also an issue of community responsibility to this. Just as international burglary gangs will be deterred from travelling to the UAE’s if all of us are highly vigilant about locking our homes and protecting our valuables, so too cybercriminal gangs will be less likely to ply their trade here if we all ensure our online transactions are done in a secure manner.

This does not mean that we should stop using public Wi-Fi for anything involving password-protected websites. Just as hackers are able to use technology for nefarious purposes, computer users can also avail themselves of the latest software to dramatically lower their vulnerability. Among the tips suggested by Mr Hart are to disable Wi-Fi when not using it and switching to using one-time passwords that are available for many email and banking services. If possible he urges us to rely on our smartphones’ data plans instead.

But first and foremost, we all need to be aware of the real level of risk so that we know when to adopt strategies to keep our information safe. As our reporter’s example showed, too many of us simply do not realise how easy it is to be hacked. The UAE’s commitment to create smart cities offers enormous benefits, but we also need to be aware of the risks associated with it.


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