Safe To Use Insecure WiFi Connection

by on February 8, 2007

Q: When I log onto a wireless network to get on the Internet I get a warning message that says, “This wireless network is insecure.” Is it still safe to purchase items by giving my credit card information?

A: There are a couple of items to discuss here and the first one is to figure out if the actual site you are on is secure. If you are on an https page and all the locks, keys, and other security items show up in your browser then this means that the information you are sending to the site and the information the site is sending to you is encrypted. This encryption is nearly impossible to decode so this makes it safe to send your information over the Internet. So if you are on a secure page on an insecure network your information is still encrypted and is safe from prying eyes.

The second part we should discuss is how a wireless network works so we can get a better idea of what it being insecure means. If a wireless network is insecure it usually means anyone can log onto the wireless network and that anyone can see the data being sent over it. The problem with this is that anyone can see what pages you are going to and if you are on insecure sites they can see what information you are sending to the site and what information the site is sending to you. The best example would be if you are on a webmail site that is insecure and you are typing confidential or personal emails. Someone could be reading these as you send them or receive them.

This is not much different than the Internet itself because as information is sent over the Internet the information is passed from computer to computer until it gets to where it needs to go. Anyone with access to these computers or networks can easily get the same information someone on an insecure wireless network could get in terms of what you are doing. The reason people are more concerned about the wireless network security is because someone sitting in the same coffee shop, hotel, or other location is the one that is seeing it and they can more easily use it to do something harmful to you.

The next step is to realize that any information you send or receive from an insecure page could possibly be read by someone else so keep that in mind if you are on a wireless network or not. The best possible practice is to only send personal and financial information to secure sites and then you will be fine.