I made the grave error of logging on to an airport WiFi while travelling
My phone was hacked! How did it happen? I still can’t wrap my head around it. Because I have always been very careful with my gadgets, especially my iPhone X. Never logging on to public WiFi was a principle I had followed diligently. That was until my recent trip to Poland.
In Warsaw, I didn’t feel compelled to buy a local SIM card or subscribe to Etisalat’s roaming service. Let the trip be a kind of digital detox, I told myself. So throughout the journey, I used the hotel WiFi only to check messages. I felt safe with the hotel WiFi — one even had a system where the password changed every half an hour unless you are logged on.
Wroclaw was my last stop in the five-city tour of Poland. At the airport, before a flight to Warsaw, there was a lot of time to kill. So I logged onto the airport WiFi. All seemed fine until I got home in Dubai the next day.
While browsing through my email, I found a message that said my Apple ID password had been reset. ALARM BELLS rang! I didn’t change the password. Panic swept through me. I quickly calmed down and checked the time the email was sent. At that precise moment, I was sitting at Wroclaw airport, munching a sandwich and thumping through WhatsApp messages. Definitely not the time to change a password.
So, someone at the Wroclaw airport gate hacked my phone. I slowly overcame the disbelief and resigned to the fact that my phone had been compromised. So what do I do? The first thing I did was change the Apple ID password and phone password.
Okay, the hacker accessed my phone; what did he/she do after that? I went through all the messages and checked my bank apps. There were no suspicious transactions: no purchases, no money transfers. I was relieved, yet I couldn’t sit still. My mind was racing.
If my Apple ID was accessed, what damage could the hacker do? All apps have individual passwords, so they must be safe. But, if the Apple ID password could be cracked, how secure are the passwords of apps? So I sat down and changed the passwords of all the apps that mattered.
That wasn’t enough. What about iCloud? If my Apple ID could be accessed, then iCloud is not safe. And iCloud holds backups, which could be compromised. Will that give access to the apps? I didn’t have an answer.
So what do I do? I decided to change the Apple ID as well. Now I have a new Apple ID and password. My banks apps work on another phone, and I don’t carry the phone with me.
A massive scare, it was. So much so that I spent a whole day reworking the passwords. A day I should have been resting after a hectic seven-day trip.
True, we live in an interconnected world. And, danger lurks in the online connections that make our lives easy. Like other conveniences in life, a misstep could result in losses. Plenty of shady characters prowl the internet, looking to prey on unsuspecting and gullible. I am fully aware of that, which is why I still can’t believe that I made the mistake of logging on to a public WiFi.
That’s like leaving the front door of a house open. An invitation for burglars. It’s a silly error. An error so bad that I’m embarrassed. An error that taught me to be careful in future. Mercifully, I didn’t lose money. I could have. I realise I was very lucky. I may not be the next time around.
Shyam A. Krishna is Senior Associate Editor at Gulf News. He writes on health and sport.
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