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Public Wi-Fi

The Risks You Take When Using Free Public Wi-Fi

Have you considered the risks of using free Wi-Fi? Have you even heard of any risks and potential issues with free hotspots? A lot of us haven’t, including myself. We have become so reliant on the internet that having the option to use it for free, we jump on the bandwagon without a second thought. Scrolling through your social media news feed, reading the latest news and even checking you bank balance to see if your pay has come in, all

the while sipping happily on your cappuccino at your local café. Sound familiar? Or maybe you’re instant messaging a loved one goodbye while waiting for a plane at the airport, you have already hooked up to the free internet. What you may not realise is, every message you send and receive, others can tap in and see what you’re up too. It is as if you’re having a conversation with a friend in a public place, someone can overhear you. It’s not much different and if you do not take precautions all information your phone or device sends out over the free network, anyone with simple software tools, and the required knowledge, can easily see what you are doing. Scary right?

If someone is spying on you, they can pick up any passwords you use or other private information. If a person is monitoring your Wi-Fi traffic, they could even ‘hijack’ your device and potentially take over your open session, for example on social networking sites or email, by stealing the browser cookies the internet server is using to recognise who you are. Once a hijacker or hacker has this cookie information, they can pretend to be you on these particular sites and find your login details inside the cookie.

Another potential risk and problem, goes by the name of ‘honeypot.’ This means that thieves set up their own free Wi-Fi hotspot with an example name of “Free Public Wi-Fi” to tempt you into hooking up and steal any data you send. Unfortunately, this can be very easy to set up with a laptop, or even a smart phone, so there is potential to run into them anywhere. It’s not known how common honeypots are, but some news reports claim that successful honeypots pop up once or twice a year.

Alright, now that we have madly turned off our Wi-Fi and worried we are going to use up all our data, I do have some preventatives. Before you connect, make sure you know which network you are connecting too to ensure it’s not a honeypot (as sure as you can be anyway). If you’re not sure what the public network at a business is called, ask an employee, I’m sure they won’t mind showing you. Next is to check that your device is not set up to automatically connect to unknown Wi-Fi networks. In settings, change it to ask you before connecting, that way you keep control and know which network you are connecting too.

When visiting websites, ensure it is connecting via HTTPS which encrypts anything you send and receive from the website. Basically, it ensures any communication to and from a website is secure. Unfortunately, the majority of sites are not https. To know if you’re connecting via HTTPS, check the website address. Before the “www.” it will have https:// (for example https://www.example.com.au).  However this doesn’t ensure everything is encrypted. To encrypt all data, its best to use a VPN (virtual private network) service so anyone who is trying to steal your data, will see only an encryption block and they are unable to get past it. The VPN is basically a software you can purchase but before you do purchase one of the many available software’s, do a little research and check out their privacy policy agreement, the provider’s background and location, to ensure they are legit. Some services advertise for free, and they have the possibility to sell your information to a third party.

Basically, I suppose the lesson here, is sometimes a ‘free service’ is a scam. But only sometimes, you just have to be vigilant and do a little background research before hooking up to anything over the internet that’s free. If you are at all unsure about how all this works or think you’ve connected to a ‘honeypot’, or simply have a few questions, call our friendly Tech Team; they’d be more than happy to help you.