Hackers home in on Hong Kong's business secrets

Updated: 2014-10-16 08:04

By Simon Parry and Hazel Parry in Hong Kong for China Daily(HK Edition)

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Hong Kong is famous for doing its business on the move, engaging in loud mobile phone conversations in public, relaxing in coffee bars, hotel lobbies or airport lounges while shooting off emails, contracts and other sensitive documents.

A survey suggests there may be a hefty price for the wifi access that comes free with a cappuccino in a coffee shop. The price is the disclosure of business secrets, spilled by employees who like to work outside the office.

Nearly seven out of 10 Hong Kong employees say they put confidential company information at risk by talking business and opening documents in cafes, hotel bars and airport lounges.

Privacy has become a "huge concern" for employees as they move between office and meetings, according to John Henderson, Chief Financial Officer of Regus, which conducted the survey.

"The increasing need to remain connected and productive via portable devices and laptops means that workers can easily find somewhere to catch up on their tasks," he said. "But each time they do, they can be putting their sensitive business information at risk of prying eyes and ears."

Dr Lucas C K Hui, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong's Department of Computer Science and founder of the Centre for Information Security and Cryptography, said public wifi networks expose people to the risk of hacking.

Coffee shops often use simple passwords to make it easier for customers to log in, which made the network more vulnerable to hackers, Dr Hui said.

"If you have used a public wifi hotspot it is good practice to change the password of more sensitive accounts such as bank or company accounts when you go to a more secure environment," he said.

One method used by hackers is called Evil Twin. It involves creating bogus wifi networks which users mistake for genuine hotspots and log in, giving hackers the ability to steal their personal details, passwords and account names.

Another method uses so-called sniffer software, which allows hackers to monitor traffic on their victims' computers so the hackers can eavesdrop on emails and chats and steal sensitive information.

Cybercrime is on the rise in Hong Kong, climbing by around 70 percent last year, according to police figures. A 175-member cybercrime investigations bureau has been set up to tackle the problem.

The Hong Kong government's information security website (www.infosec.gov.hk) has a page devoted to advising people on public wireless hotspots and preventing cybercrime.

This advice includes not leaving your wireless device unattended, encrypting personal data, installing anti-virus software, and not using it for sending sensitive information. It also recommends people to disable wireless connections when they are not in use.

(HK Edition 10/16/2014 page7)