In this month’s One-on-One blog, ExpertFlyer talks with Kent Lawson, Founder & CEO of Private Communications Corporation, a security technology company that protects personal data and information online. PRIVATE WiFi, the company’s flagship software product, encrypts all computer data across unencrypted WiFi networks, ensuring online privacy for those without access to virtual private networks (VPNs).
Kent talks about the silent security threats lurking at the more than 12 million unencrypted WiFi networks worldwide, including airports, hotels, coffee shops, public parks, etc., where public WiFi is available to travelers. Kent is donating a one-year free subscription to Private WiFi as part of ExpertFlyer’s August Facebook Giveaway Sweepstakes. Enter here before August 30th.
“WiFi signals are just radio waves… So the guy sitting a few tables away in a coffee shop or in another hotel room down the hall or a few rows away in an airplane can access everything you send or receive.”
— Kent Lawson, Founder & CEO, Private Communications
You founded your company and flagship encryption software, Private WiFi, in 2010. Talk about the genesis of this product and why you developed it?
In the spring of 2010, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal on the dangers of public WiFi hotspots in hotels, airports, coffeeshops, public parks, etc. When it came to the end of the article, instead of saying what you could do to protect yourself, the article just ended – saying, more or less, “good luck.”
I had been retired for 12 years from my previous software company at that point. I knew there had to be a better answer and I knew that there was going to be a huge demand for online protection since virtually everyone would be using WiFi hotspots. I looked around at the potential competition and felt that no one was doing it seriously. So, I un-retired myself (the same year I got my Medicare card!) and started PRIVATE WiFi.
How vulnerable is the “regular Joe” traveler when it comes to getting personal information hacked or having one’s identity stolen?
Very. Actually, the more that I looked into the issue, the more I became convinced how important it was.
WiFi signals are just radio waves. So all you need is a receiver tuned to the right frequency to intercept all communications to and from everyone in a WiFi hotspot. So the guy sitting a few tables away in a coffee shop or in another hotel room down the hall or a few rows away in an airplane can access everything you send or receive.
It’s called “sniffing” and it is the ultimate stealthy crime, because there is no way to know it is happening until it is too late. But here are some known instances:
According to a FOIA request I filed with the Federal Trade Commission, an airline passenger complained that he used his credit card to make a purchase online. Two days later, there were thousands of dollars of unauthorized charges on his card.
A woman told me she’d accessed her PayPal account with her smartphone. Funds were withdrawn by a hacker within 10 minutes.
A man wrote me that his email account was hacked soon after accessing it on Amtrak.
As one security consultant said to me: “We all know this is going on.” Continue reading →