Free public Wi-Fi access at places like Coffee Bean and Starbucks are convenient, but you may be putting your device at risk. Public wireless networks are generally designed for convenience but not security. They often do not require authentication to establish an internet connection, therefore creating opportunities for hackers to get easy access on unsecured devices within the same network. Instead of direct connections to the hotspot, users are sending their information to the hackers. Once hackers have sensitive information such as email and credit card details, they can abuse the data and carry out fraud transactions or money transfers.
In research conducted by the Cyber Security Research Institute, researchers placed a portable free Wi-Fi access point in London and within half an hour, 250 devices connected to it. The experiment results surprised researchers:
– Most devices connected automatically, the owners were unaware of the security risk
– A total of 32 MB of data was captured
– Unencrypted POP3 email content and passwords could be read.
– Six users clicked the “agree” button to give up their firstborn child or a beloved pet for free Wi-Fi access. It shows that users often do not read the long legal terms and conditions.
Tips to stay protected:
1. Turn off sharing – Prevent hacker access and the opportunity to plant malware to a shared folder.
2. Do not automatically connect to open networks – Some hackers create fake networks like “Free WiFi” to lure you in, users are advised to validate the Wi-Fi network name with a venue employee before continuing with manual connection.
3. Be aware that public Wi-Fi is not secure – Only do online transactions with your secure home network.