Protecting Shoppers from Mobile Menaces

By Doug Lodder,

Mobile device users have the world at their fingertips. Consumers today can use their smartphone or tablet to manage their finances, diagnose their own symptoms, and even use apps as a personal stylist while shopping.

Research and consumer trends make it clear that the omni-channel shopping experience is here to stay. A mobile shopping study from Google recently found that 62% of smartphone owners use their device to help them shop at least once a month, and 84% of them do so while in the store. Retailers including Walmart, Target and Neiman Marcus are doubling down on digital, launching wireless networks and debuting innovative new apps to keep mobile-savvy customers engaged both in-store and on-the-go.

With wireless networks and retail apps becoming necessities in today’s shopping experience, venue operators have greater ability to build trust and strengthen relationships with shoppers — and would-be hackers have increased opportunities to exploit mobile device users in these crowded consumer centers.

The rapid growth of mobile device usage and development of easy-to-use hacking tools create prime conditions for cybercriminals to launch subtle intrusions, allowing them to capture unencrypted personal data from mobile device users. According to the Norton Cybercrime Report, more than 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some form of cybercrime to date.

In this new converged mobile and brick-and-mortar marketplace, it’s more important than ever for venue owners and consumers alike to do their part to avoid wireless backdoors and safety breaches.

Managing your network
A wireless network security breach can have myriad repercussions for a shopping center operator.

By installing viruses and malware or launching a faux network name, cybercriminals can cause severe damage to a network, requiring costly network fixes, potentially causing reputation damage and leading to shopper attrition.

Retailers can help to minimize their networks’ exposure to hackers and limit the chances of a security threat by implementing safety solutions such as active tracking, blocking, and monitoring.

Shopping center operators who choose a managed wireless network service provider can leverage that providers’ active network tracking. Such a provider can monitor network traffic live, and quickly identify unusual activity, alerting the mall operator to the suspicious behavior and enabling them to act swiftly to shut down a rogue network.

Monitoring and blocking
There are a number of techniques that cybercriminals can use to break into wireless networks. For example, the “Evil Twin” network is an un-safe network access point that broadcasts the same name as the legitimate venue network, intended to lure users to connect. Firewalls and other controls implemented by an experienced managed network provider can identify and block these unauthorized evil twin networks and other similar exploits.

It’s also important for the venue and network operator to implement appropriate levels of monitoring and active filtering of content to prevent illegal activity on the public network. Hackers can use public networks in malls to install malware or to retrieve private information, such as account login credentials. By constantly monitoring the network, managed service providers can be sure that there are no unforeseen security threats to the network, and can quickly “tar pit” any fake networks or unauthorized access points, preventing consumers from mistakenly logging in to them.

Safety tips for shoppers
Shoppers also have a responsibility to protect themselves against mobile menaces while connecting on the go. By applying available tech tools and common sense, consumers can help ensure their data security while shopping.

Use a Virtual Private Network: One of the most important steps users can take to stay secure on free public Wi-Fi is using a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. Securing a connection on a public Wi-Fi network via VPN will encrypt all user communications — creating a secure tunnel from a device to an online destination, and back again. While many access a VPN through their employer, consumers who don’t already have access to a VPN can download VPN service easily. (Boingo offers a free personal VPN to all customers with account credentials via the company’s Wi-Finder application.)

Apply the “social network” rule: Would you post your login for your mobile banking, 401k or healthcare provider’s site to Facebook? Probably not. When using a mobile device in public, users should think about whether they’d want anyone seeing the information they’re typing in. If not, they should try to avoid typing that information in while they’re standing in line at a store or casually browsing at the mall.

Use a trusted Wi-Fi provider:
Where possible, users should try to connect to a network managed by a trusted Wi-Fi provider. Keeping an eye out for signs at the mall or asking information for the name of the official network can help shoppers connect to the secure, monitored Wi-Fi.

Surf securely: Five key letters to remember when logging in on a public network: HTTPS. With these letters at the front of any URL, users can ensure that they are visiting a secure site. Most popular services — like Twitter and Facebook — can be configured to connect using a secure method.

Password power: Mobile device users should employ a “long and strong password.” Using numbers and symbols in a password make hacking into personal accounts more difficult. Shoppers should also update their passwords regularly, and use two-step authentication when logging into favorite sites like Google, Linked In or Apple iCloud accounts.

Shopping center operators can attract and build trust with today’s omni-channel shoppers by hosting a managed network and making shoppers aware their role in their own data security. The mobile menaces in today’s malls may continue to lurk, but by actively tracking and shutting down unauthorized access points, and monitoring traffic on the Wi-Fi network as appropriate, a retailer can reduce the risk of threats to users and the network — making the mall safe for mobile and in-store shoppers alike.

Doug Lodder oversees the strategy and development of Wi-Fi and DAS networks in shopping malls, stadiums, restaurants and other venues for Boingo Wireless. Boingo’s vast footprint of small cell networks covers more than a million DAS and Wi-Fi locations and reaches more than one billion consumers annually — in places as varied as airports, stadiums, shopping malls, restaurants, universities, and military bases. For more info, contact Katie O’Neil at

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