It is that time of year again where thousands of poker players descend upon Vegas for the World Series of Poker (WSOP).
“Is it safe to play online poker on wireless networks or public networks?”While legal online poker was live during last year’s WSOP, Ultimate Poker was the only site live and it was still going through its growing pains. This year, online poker is being heavily marketed to the WSOP crowd—to the point that direct marketing is telling players to bring their laptops to the Rio and play online, even while playing live.
An online “grind” area has been setup at the WSOP—on the stage in the Pavillion room—to encourage play. Of course the primary method that players are going to use to play online while in Vegas is via wireless networks in the Rio or at the casino where they are staying.
A question I have been asked many times is: “Is it safe to play online poker on wireless networks or public networks?”
Are Public WiFi Networks Safe for Playing Online Poker?
The answer I typically give: It depends.
There are security concerns to playing online poker in general and I illustrated many of the risks and protection mechanisms you should take in a previous article.
The suggestions in that article will help you stay safe while playing online at the WSOP. The tips include making sure your computer has the latest security patches, using antivirus, turning off file sharing, using a personal firewall, and only using a system dedicated to online poker (i.e. no email, chat).
There are some other recommendations that you could also take, such as using a VPN when connected to an unsafe wireless network or even a wired hotel network.
If you are tech savvy you could setup your own using software such as OpenVPN. If not there are commercial solutions such as HotSpotVPN, WiTopia, and many more. Once connected to a wireless or wired network, these applications allow you to establish a VPN connection in which all of your traffic is tunneled and encrypted.
One caveat is this may change your IP address and cause problems with some of the geolocation checks required by Nevada Gaming Commission to stop out-of-state players from connecting to online poker sites in Nevada. I have not personally tested this and am not sure of any potential issues.
Beware of Spoofing Attacks
The above suggestions will help you stay safe if you are connected to the correct wireless network. What would concern me if playing online in a location where people know a large number of players are connecting to igaming sites is man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks.
In this scenario an attacker causes the victim to connect to his system instead of a valid wireless access-point (AP). All traffic is then sent to the attacker before being sent to the Internet. This allows the attacker to see all traffic, including passwords and other sensitive information.
To help prevent against this type of attack you should turn off the auto-connect feature on your wireless device. While this does not completely stop these types of attacks it does add a layer of protection.
Denial of Service Attacks
Another concern is denial of service (DOS) attacks directed against a specific player.
For example, suppose you are playing heads-up with an opponent and chatting with him online and he discovers your IP address. It would be trivial for him to conduct a DOS attack against you while in a big pot, causing you to become disconnected. This threat also exists on the Internet but is even easier to pull off when on the same wireless network.
A possible solution to this would be not to use the free Wi-Fi but bring your own in the form of a MiFi or other personal hotspot. This could solve many of the concerns I have mentioned, however, I was informed that this will not work in Vegas due to the geolocation restrictions. Once again I have not tested this myself.
So should you play online while at the WSOP? I believe the majority of low-stake players are safe, but if I was playing for any substantial amount of money or had a large amount in my online account I think the risk is too great to play on free wireless networks or hotel networks while in Vegas.
Security is all about managing risk: As long as you know about the threats and are able to make informed decisions that is the best you can ask for.