In the modern world the broadband access technologies are more and more becoming the indispensable part of our everyday life. Almost everybody has a mobile device such as smartphone or tablet, which enables its owner to gain access to the Internet on the go. For example, I use it because it is convenient: ordering a taxi at the push of the button, checking the bus timetable, finding a museum or a best restaurant nearby, talking to somebody over Skype or just watching a movie at home or while waiting for a flight. This is comfortable and I am sure that many of you will agree with me.
However, have you ever thought that if you can access information using your smartphone, somebody else can gather the information about you? Did you know that the traffic from your smartphone that goes over a free access point can be easily monitored and your connections can be profiled? In the best case the data about you will be anonymized and used for advertisement purposes: which websites you browse, how much time you spend on this access point and so on. If you are fine with that, there still can be other kind of dangerous situations with more serious consequences.
A typical free WiFi access point at a hotel, airport, shopping center, train station and so on does not have any encryption configured. The authentication of a user usually happens by username/password, which, for example, are given to you at the reception desk at a hotel. For example, last time I visited a hotel, I got a password which seemed to be the same for all guests. If you think about it, it makes sense: a hotel does not need to provide you any security, it just needs that the WiFi is available only to its guests.
Sometimes you can be asked to provide a phone number which then receives an SMS with a PIN code. This is also to make sure that only authorized users can get Internet access. Either way, an access point remains open and anybody can connect to it. Since no WiF encryption exists, anybody can see the traffic of other users. This does not require any additional hardware, any packet analyzer such as Wireshark will be just enough.
Open WiFi enables an easy surfing for users and a simple way for hackers to gather any sensitive data.
Open WiFi provides a variety of attack vectors on unsuspecting users. The simple example: a malicious person can monitor a traffic looking for phone numbers, email addresses, credit card numbers – any data which can be used for his or her personal benefit. Of course, most of the websites you visit hopefully use the HTTPS encryption. However, there are different types of HTTPS, ones are weaker and vulnerable to attacks, and other ones are stronger and thereby safer. However, how often do you check which encryption type a certain website uses? Moreover, do you always check before entering your credit card number or any sensitive information that a website provides an encryption at all?
There are other ways to steal your data. For example, an attacker can setup his own access point in a public place with some common name like Free_Swisscom_WiFi. There certainly will be users who will connect to this access point. Moreover, a mobile phone will connect to it automatically if it has already been connected to a real access point with the same name before. Then an attacker can setup SSL proxy, inject his own certificate for any HTTPS connection that he sees thus decrypting this connection. A user could see a warning in his web browser, but a more sophisticated hacker can get a certificate which your device trusts or trick you to install such certificate and intercept your traffic without raising any suspicion.
If you are travelling to another country, you might be using a data package so you can always stay connected even when no WiFi access points are around. Of course, you will be roaming on a mobile network of an operator in that country. This, in turn, means that your traffic might be monitored and analyzed by this operator, the data collected about you can be used for various purposed. Of course, you will never know about that fact and probably nothing bad will happen. However, are you fine with the possibility that somebody is able to analyze your data without your knowledge or permission?
Is there any solution that could protect our privacy? For everybody who is concerned with what happens to his or her data we have developed Safe Connect.
Safe Connect is a mobile app currently available for Android and iOS. It is based on the technology called Virtual Private Networks (VPN). As soon as you turn it on, it creates a private encrypted tunnel between your phone and our server in Switzerland. There it will be decrypted, scanned for viruses or phishing websites and forwarded to its destination web site.
Safe Connect encrypts your communications and makes them impossible to be intercepted.
This approach gives you several advantages:
- You can safely surf on any open network because a possible attacker will only see an encrypted traffic;
- Automatic malware checks will ensure that you don’t access any viruses or phishing websites;
- All your data and traffic, regardless whether you will be abroad or not, will logically be in Switzerland;
- Even mobile networks of foreign operators will not be able to analyze your traffic.
To secure your connection, Safe Connect uses the IPSEC protocol suite which includes the AES256 encryption. This guarantees your privacy and that nobody will be able to eavesdrop your data. We also guarantee that we do not analyze, store or profile your traffic. We only run automatic malware checks which are carried out only on the unencrypted (non-HTTPS) traffic by the Symantec Protection Engine. It also operates on our servers and we do not leak your data anywhere. On the top of that, our servers are secured against attacks and backed up against outages, so you can use the Safe Connect app 24/7.
To make sure that you can easily enable the secure connection, we have provided:
- Widgets for Android users – turn Safe Connect on and off right from your home screen;
- VPN-on-demand option for iOS users – when enabled, the VPN will be automatically turned on when your device generates any Internet activity (web surfing, music streaming, weather update and so on). The VPN connection will be disabled when your device is idle to save the battery.
Besides that, Safe Connect offers you to view:
- The last 5 unencrypted connections that your device have established;
- How much traffic you send and receive over the VPN;
- Blocked websites and malware that you could have received on your device without Safe Connect.
Safe Connect features
Safe Connect provides you with one month of full functionality for free. Then you can continue using the service for 5 CHF per month or 29 CHF per year. Moreover, you can use it on the second device for free as long as the subscription on the first device is valid.
As a privacy-concerned person and one of the developers of Safe Connect, I have been using it myself in various WiFi networks and mobile operators. From my experience, the app does not slow down a connection or has any significant impact on a battery life. When I was travelling abroad, I kept running Safe Connect for hours on my phone. At the same time, the app provided me with a great degree of privacy and security, so I did not bother myself whether I should access a certain web site or not without running the risk of leaking my data to a third party.
Interested? Download the Safe Connect for Android here or for iOS here.