This winter I have been learning how to program Android by using the automation app called Tasker. I started by writing a simple program which when I plug headphones into my mobile phone, a menu of apps pops up, this makes selecting which music app I want easier. I progressed to writing a speaking clock app, send my location to Google maps at the touch of a button and creating an amazing alarm clock which wakes me gently with music followed by announcing the time and then playing my favourite podcast.
My favourite podcast is of course Jason Mooreˋs Zero To Travel and I’m currently going through Jason’s back catalogue. This morning Jason was talking to a chap who runs the website called Too Many Adapters, the subject being technology and travel. Technology has made travel easier and more accessible than ever, however it does come with several downsides. One of these downsides is in Hacker speak, a man in the middle attack, which is extremely easy to perform. Basically when you are connected to wi-fi it is easy for someone to snoop on what you are doing. As I already work abroad, watch Hak5 online and follow Troy Hunt’s blog, I’m aware of the dangers of an unprotected internet connection.
Several of my colleagues use a VPN (virtual private network) to be able to watch and download from BBC iPlayer and watch Netflix or Hulu in a country which doesn’t support those services. I know most of my colleagues have no idea that the VPN is encrypting (scrambling) their Web traffic but they know it works for pretending to be in another country. I have used a VPN on many occasions when I’m on a public wi-fi network and don’t want my data to be captured, however I’m just moving the end point from where I am to another place which I have no knowledge of how secure it is. All I can go by is the reviews and recommendations of others, the best case scenario is to set up a VPN back to my home in the UK knowing that my ISP (internet service provider) is now the end point.
So after listening to the podcast I decided to pay for a VPN service, I had used tunnel bear on several occasions before, so thought I would go with them. I opened the app and selected upgrade, as I was signed into Google I subscribed for a year to see how it performs. However straight away I had problems with my connection, Tunnel Bear decided not to play ball and I could no longer use the internet in the hotel. I am hoping this is just a glitch as the free version worked fine but only gave me 500mb of data which was upgraded to 1gb when I tweeted how good Tunnel Bear was. I will be going back to the hotel earlier than normal tonight to check that my new VPN works correctly and will report back in a later post.
So after my dodgy start with a permanent VPN why should you bother?
First A VPN is not just for travel a VPN should be used anytime you are on a Wi-Fi connection and anytime that you are on a connection that is public, even if you use an ethernet cable.
Let me break this down further.
A VPN encrypts your data, which protects your privacy.
WiFi is just a radio signal that with some basic software can be seen, recorded and even changed. Using a VPN means all that can be seen, recorded and changed is basically garbage to the person snooping. This renders it in effect useless to them and they will move on to an easier target.
So on your home wi-fi, the snooper sits outside your house in a van with blacked out windows and records what you do online. This is unlikely but your neighbour could easily do this, remember a 16-year-old who was bored managed to hack into Talk Talk. I’m sure there are lots of things you do online that you don’t want to be out in the wild.
Every public wi-fi network you connect to is unsecure, there is a balance between security and convenience. If its convenient then it’s not secure. WiFi is extremely convenient, therefore it is extremely unsecure. There doesn’t have to be a guy in a black hat sat in the corner of your favourite coffee shop either, most public wi-fi is so unsecure all the bad guy has to do is change the router settings so it sends him all the data on that wi-fi network without anyone knowing. He is also not there to look suspicious or get caught.
Here is a little side note, someone I know worked in Gran Canaria for a couple of summer seasons and could not only monitor what everyone was doing in a McDonald’s but could see what was going through the tills.
So let’s just plug an ethernet cable in then! Well not quite, although no one will be sniffing traffic over wi-fi, the router could still be redirecting traffic or the internet cafe you’re in could be recording everything.
So a VPN is a simple, inexpensive solution to being snooped on, after all your data, identity and even your itinerary is valuable to someone and that someone is not just you.