What types of activities should one avoid doing while operating on a public computer network that may be under surveillance by hackers?
As the question acknowledges, public access Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) or wireless local area networks are highly susceptible to intrusions by hackers, including those attempting to steal sensitive information. Because there is no physical connection involved, Wi-Fi networks greatly simplify the hacker’s mission of intercepting electronic communications. While some computer users make the effort to encrypt data, such a tactic is dependent upon the individual on the receiving end being capable of deencrypting the message.
Because of the vulnerability of communications transmitted over wireless networks to unwanted intrusions, it is highly recommended that no sensitive information be transmitted through such networks. The types of information that computer users should avoid transmitting over wireless networks include personal financial data, identifying information like Social Security Numbers, the theft of which could lead to one’s identity being stolen, and personal medical information. The more frequently such information is transmitted over wireless networks, the greater the likelihood that a hacker will succeed in intercepting the message and exploiting the stolen information for criminal purposes.
The risk of inadvertently divulging one’s most sensitive personal information has increased exponentially with the proliferation of smart phones and tablets. In addition to the threat from hackers seeking to steal information, increased use of wireless mobile devices has also greatly increased the risk of destructive malware being introduced into one’s systems. According to industry watchdog Juniper Networks, “enterprise and consumer mobile devices are exposed to a record number of security threats, including a 400 percent increase in Android malware, as well as highly-targeted Wi-Fi attacks.” [“Security Vulnerabilities at All-Time Highs for Mobile Devices,” IT Business Edge, www.itbusinessedge.com/slideshows/show.aspx?c=91005].
As wireless, mobile computer networks replace static, physically connected computer networks, incidences of identity theft, destructive malware, and other disruptive attacks will increase. Convenience will almost certainly outweigh security for most people.