Free Wi-Fi at a coffee shop or other public space is a welcome sign for millions of people everyday who want to get some work done, make a video call, or just catch up on a bit of online shopping.
However, as results of a new experiment today prove, public Wi-Fi is so unsecure it can even be hacked by a seven-year-old child – and in just over ten minutes.
The ethical hacking experiment was conducted as part of a new Wi-Fi safety public awareness campaign by VPN provider www.hidemyass.com, which aims to to highlight just how effortlessly hackers can compromise any of the UK’s almost 270,000 public Wi-Fi spots.
With the consent of her family and in a controlled environment, IT-savvy seven-year-old Betsy Davies managed to hack a willing participant’s laptop while they were connected to a purpose-made open Wi-Fi network – designed to replicate those found on the high street.
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Professional hacker Marcus Dempsey, who is often hired by companies to check the robustness of their network systems, watched as Betsy used hacking instructions she acquired through a quick Google search.
It took the primary schooler just 10 minutes and 54 seconds to learn how to set up a rogue access point – frequently used by attackers to activate what is known as a ‘man in the middle’ attack – before eavesdropping on traffic.
“The results of this experiment are worrying but not entirely surprising,” said Dempsey. “I know just how easily a layman can gain access to a stranger’s device, and in an age where children are often more tech-literate than adults, hacking can literally be child’s play.
“Adults need to get their heads around online security basics – and stick to them whenever they connect to an unsecure network. As for children, while it’s admirable educators are focusing on skills like coding, it’s important to teach them about the dangers that lurk online, as well instilling a clear sense of the ethics. After all, as easily as one can now code a computer game, so one can fall into the dark world of hacking.”
Data in danger
The danger to consumers using public Wi-Fi lies in the sensitive data they make available to eavesdroppers – and the risk is growing. A recent Cabinet Office report showed over half of Britons had fallen victim to cybercriminals.
According to research by www.hidemyass.com, nearly two thirds (59%) of Britons regularly use unsecure Wi-Fi hotspots, with one in five (20%) doing so weekly or more to bank online (19%) shop (25%), send emails and documents (31%), and use social media platforms (50%). All of this activity could put their passwords, bank details, confidential information and their very identities in the hands of hackers.