The Real Cost of Free
With plenty of free apps and software options out there, it certainly should be an easy choice to take advantage of what’s on offer, shouldn’t it?
Whether usage is of a personal or business nature, there are several factors to consider before taking so called “advantage” of these free options.
Is it legal?
A primary consideration should be: is the function of the app/software a legal one? For instance, certain video streaming services (whilst in themselves are not breaking any laws), the streaming/downloading of copy-written material is a crime, risks to the viewer/user are potentially significant fines.
Also, on a question of ethics, some of these dubious sites are said to be supporting the revenues of organised crime syndicates, terrorist cells, rogue states and all manner of underground illegal groups.
Freeware can contain hidden malicious code; it seems counterintuitive to have malware within anti-malware software, but it does indeed happen. If you choose freeware with little research on the product, you could be installing fraudulent antivirus or other software which contains malicious add-ons.
Updates aren’t as frequent; with paid solutions, you get the fastest level of support for updates and responses for zero-day threats. Signature files are updated much more frequently, and many paid software solutions will offer real-time updates with no interaction from the user.
Free Online Software
These websites make fancy promises too, such as “just upload your file and we’ll get your converted file back within 5 minutes! No need to install any software on your computer!”, but wait, could something so good really be true? Before you go with an online solution, remember the risks that you may be exposing your files to…
Really, can you trust the website? Online file converters ask you to upload your file onto their server, and then download the converted file few minutes later. This unfortunately exposes you to the possibility of downloading viruses and trojans onto your computer or business server. Also, please be especially wary if the website asks for your email address, as that opens you up to unwanted emails from their service! Worse yet, it’s hard to tell the good sites from the bad.
Of course, all online converters assert high levels of safety and reliability. “Don’t worry, we’ll delete your files as soon as your conversion is finished.” The privacy issue is especially important if you’re working with sensitive and private design files. You can use these online converters if you can afford to have your file seen by others. At the very least, please make sure that the website does not store, retain or backup files on its server.
By far one of the most popular and common usages of ‘Free IT’ is logging onto Public Wi-Fi. Public WiFi can be found widespread in public places such as airports, coffee shops, trains, and hotels, allowing you to access the internet for free. This WiFi is often known as ‘hotspots’, which people frequently connect to without thinking twice.
What are the risks?
The problem with public Wi-Fi is that there are an incredible number of risks that go along with these networks. While business owners may believe they’re providing a valuable service to their customers, chances are the security on these networks is lax or non-existent.
One of the most common threats on these networks is called a Man-in-the-Middle attack. In essence, this type of attack is a form of eavesdropping. When a computer makes a connection to the internet, data is sent from point A (computer) to point B (service/website), and vulnerabilities can allow an attacker to get in between these transmissions and ‘read’ them. So, what you thought was private no longer is.
Encryption means that the information that is sent between your computer and the wireless router are in the form of a “secret code,” so that it cannot be read by anyone who doesn’t have the key to decipher the code. Most routers are shipped from the factory with encryption turned off by default, and it must be turned on when the network is set up. If an IT professional sets up the network, then chances are good that encryption has been enabled. However, there is no surefire way to tell if this has happened.
Thanks to software vulnerabilities, there are also ways that attackers can slip malware onto your computer without you even knowing. A software vulnerability is a security hole or weakness found in an operating system or software program. Hackers can exploit this weakness by writing code to target a specific vulnerability, and then inject the malware onto your device.
Snooping and sniffing
Wi-Fi snooping and sniffing is what it sounds like. Cybercriminals can buy special software kits on the dark web, and even devices to help assist them with eavesdropping on Wi-Fi signals. This method can allow the attackers to access everything that you are doing online, from viewing whole webpages you have visited (including any information you may have filled out while visiting that webpage), to being able to capture your login credentials, and even hijack your accounts.
These ‘rogue access points’ trick victims into connecting to what they think is a legitimate network because the name sounds reputable. Say you’re staying at the Goodnyght Inn and want to connect to the hotel’s Wi-Fi. You may think you’re selecting the correct one when you click on “GoodNyte Inn,” but you haven’t. Instead, you’ve just connected to a rogue hotspot set up by cybercriminals who can now view your sensitive information.
How to stay safe on public Wi-Fi
The best way to know your information is safe while using public Wi-Fi is to use a virtual private network (VPN), when surfing on your PC, Mac, smartphone or tablet. However, if you must use public Wi-Fi, follow these tips to protect your information.
- Allow your Wi-Fi to auto-connect to networks
- Log into any account via an app that contains sensitive information. Go to the website instead and verify it uses HTTPS before logging in
- Leave your Wi-Fi or Bluetooth on if you are not using them
- Access websites that hold your sensitive information, such as such as financial or healthcare accounts
- Log onto a network that isn’t password protected
- Disable file sharing
- Only visit sites using HTTPS
- Log out of accounts when done using them
- Use a VPN, to make sure your public Wi-Fi connections are made private.
Ever heard the phrase “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” …… just hold on to that thought!
Written by: Darrel Ellis, Client Director at Armadillo.