Free WiFiWiFi is a technology that allows electronic devices to connect to a wireless local area network (WLAN), to communicate without cords or cables. This type of wireless networking protocol broadcasts, mainly using radio waves, which means that, without protection, anyone within range and with the right software could see everything you are doing online:

  • Every site you visit
  • Every bit of text you send out
  • Your login information for various sites

Public WiFi isn’t usually encrypted – you can tell this is the case when you don’t need to type a password in order to connect. If you’re connected to a WiFi network, and have no idea whose network it is, beware: the hotspot might exist entirely to steal your personal data.

Setting up a WiFi network is neither hard nor expensive, and scammers do so in the hopes of stealing passwords and other personal information. If you connect to a network called something like “Free WiFi” with no password required and no welcome screen, it might be a trap.  Connect to one of these networks and you will think you are connecting to the Internet as usual, but in reality you’re falling for an elaborate phishing scam. You won’t be able to tell, but you could be entering your email username and password into a fake version of the site, giving your password to a scammer in the process.

Snooping isn’t the only potential danger on a public WiFi network: there’s also the risk of malware. A coffee shop might be running Windows XP SP1 without any malware protection, putting your computer at risk of infection.

How can you protect yourself from such networks?

The best way is to connect to WiFi networks only if you know who’s providing them.  Ask business owners what the name of their network is, to ensure that the network you are connecting to is legitimate.  Make sure you’ve got a firewall running when you connect to a public WiFi network. In Windows, the simplest way is to set all public WiFi networks as “Public”, when you’re prompted:

OpenSSL, is a kind of encryption offered by many websites: Google, Facebook and most banks, to name a few. This technology encrypts the traffic between you and another site, meaning no one will be able to snoop on that activity. You’ll know OpenSSL is on when you see “HTTPS” in your browser’s address bar.

A few key points to keep in mind, if you want to stay safe:

  • If your traffic isn’t being encrypted, it’s being broadcasted – and anyone could listen in.
  • Ensure you’ve turned on your firewall and have up-to-date malware protection.

Next: Identity Theft