SecurityMobile security for road warriors: An introduction

December 14, 2010by SiliconUnderground

I don’t even remember what we were talking about when WhiteQueen blurted out, “You wouldn’t believe what people look at over hotel wi-fi connections.”

Given the things people will view at work, in spite of the rules, I’m not sure much of anything will surprise me. And when I suggested a batch file that just repeatedly wgets something that nobody wants to look at as a defense, he just laughed.

What bothers me more is how easy it is to find out what people are looking at over that hotel wi-fi connection. There’s a Firefox extension now that does it. Anyone who can install a Firefox extension and has the tiniest inkling of curiosity can do it.

Someone with a little more ambition and skill can see a whole lot more.

And that was WhiteQueen’s point. “Don’t access your bank over the hotel wi-fi. What do you need to know? Can’t you do it over the phone?”

“Hijacking wi-fi is so easy, your mother can do it,” WhiteQueen said.

So if what you’re doing is really sensitive, you shouldn’t be doing it over the hotel wi-fi. Period. Don’t access your bank, and think twice about your corporate e-mail, for that matter.

“What are you doing that’s so important that it can’t wait until you get home?” WhiteQueen asked.

Well, when I travel, I’m required to check my corporate mail twice a day. So since that’s part of my job requirement, signing in is part of my morning ritual, as well as my early evening ritual.

“So verify httpS,” WhiteQueen said, pounding down the phone for emphasis. “And a valid certificate. Don’t just accept the warning. Don’t assume you’re safe if you see the little lock icon. I can spoof that.”

“I’ll fix you,” I said. “I’ll just plug my laptop into the wired Ethernet connection in my room.”

“It’s even easier for me to attack your wired Ethernet connection,” WhiteQueen said.


The quick and easy way to get better security is to use a mobile broadband connection, whether it’s a mobile broadband modem, or a tethered connection to your smartphone. “It’s a lot harder to do a man-in-the-middle between your laptop and your cell phone,” WhiteQueen said.

And besides that–he’s probably not going to bother with my boring little cell phone network when there’s so much more interesting stuff going on over the hotel wi-fi.

How’s the bandwidth? Enough for two people on laptops to play games over the connection with only slight lag. So, potentially better than the hotel wi-fi.

And almost every road warrior carries a smartphone today, right? Well, you do have to carry the right smartphone. An iPhone doesn’t have tethering capability.

But an even better solution is to set up a VPN back to your home network.

Unless you build networks for a living, that probably sounds intimidating. But it’s possible to set up a home VPN good enough for personal protection with a modest investment of time, using software that doesn’t cost you anything, and without buying any additional equipment. But that’s a deep enough topic that we’ll dive into that next time.