Very little of what we do on our computing devices is done in a standalone manner. We use emails, communicate and interact using social media, search for information and access application services provided over the internet. All of these activities are only possible if we are online, connected to the internet, while using our applications.
So, how do we connect to the internet? The internet is a collection of interconnected networks. To connect to a network there needs to be an interconnection that allows us to go from our local area network (LAN) environment and join use to the wider area network (WAN) environment.
There are three primary ways that modern devices connect to the internet:
- Mobile data networks – each cellular operator acts as an internet service provider allowing us to use cellular data services to connect to the internet
- Wi-Fi networks – at home, at the office, in educational centres or in public locations, Wi-Fi ‘hotspots’, or Wi-Fi access points enable us to connect using and use the hotspots internet connection for our purposes.
- Local area network (LAN) connections – at the office, we may use Ethernet connections to connect to a LAN that our companies have connected to an internet service provider for our use.
Our devices have all got networking capabilities. Each device supports one or more of the following connections:
- Wi-Fi connection
- Ethernet connection
- GSM cellular data connection
- Bluetooth connection
Wi-Fi and Ethernet are local area network connections. Cellular data connections are wireless WAN connections. All three of these connections can be used for internet access.
Bluetooth is for connections that are personal, used typically for connecting personal devices or sharing data between users of mobile devices. Bluetooth is not typically used when connecting to the internet.
Connection via public Wi-Fi networks
Using public Wi-Fi networks is an affordable way of getting to our internet services. Are we exposing ourselves to risks when doing this? How can we protect our information when mobile and connected?
When connecting to a ‘hotspot’, we can see if the network is secure or not. A Wi-Fi network may open or secured. Secure may simply mean that all users will need to provide an authenticator (password or key) to gain access. The fact that the network requires a password does not mean your data is encrypted when transferred. It is possible for someone to sit in the Wi-Fi area and ‘snoop’, observing your traffic and gathering potential useful information from you.
Generally, public networks are not secure. If you wish to access services that cause sensitive information to be transferred (username and password, bank account information or transactions), it is safer to use your own private cellular connection.
Also note that we are able to configure our devices to share information and resources, and even allow remote access and control. If these setting are enabled, and we connect to public networks, we open ourselves up to the risk of someone else gaining access to our information over the network connection.
Connections using Bluetooth
If your device allows connections over Bluetooth, others can attempt to gain access to your device and data. Bluetooth is commonly used between friends to share music, photos and other information with each other. If you leave your Bluetooth active, you are at risk.
Network risk Prevention
Public Wi-Fi risk Prevention
- Make certain you are connection to the correct network. Some hackers put up false hotspots with very similar names, and then gather your information as you attempt to access internet services
- Use secure networks with encrypted data transfers
- Ensure all internet access is via sites that are secure (https://…) as this ensure data flows are encrypted
- Avoid doing high risk transactions or sensitive work in a public environment
- Turn off ‘network discovery’ of your device
- Turn off ‘sharing’ of your device resources when connecting to public networks
- Ensure your device always prompts you before connecting to a previously known network
- Forget the public networks you connect to when you leave the Wi-Fi hotspot
Bluetooth risk Prevention
- Turn Bluetooth on when required and off immediately when no longer required.
- Avoid using Bluetooth in open public spaces
- Turn off ‘sharing’ of your device resources to ensure you are in control of all access to your device and information