Why Free WI-FI is not Free

When accessing a public WiFi security system it is important to understand any security issues.

We all love the convenience of WiFi to stay connected anywhere our laptops, tablets, and smart phones take us. We connect at airports, coffee shops, libraries, restaurants, and the slew of other available access points. Taking a look at http://www.wififreespot.com gives thousands of locations to connect for free across the country.

To bring up an old quote “You get what you pay for”, When accessing a public WiFi security system it is important to understand any security issues. Specifically, a public WiFi system is often free and therefore is cheaply provided and public WiFi security is minimal. Therefore, it is safe to assume that any safety measures are non existent. Subsequently, when the consumer uses the public WiFi site their personal and confidential information transmitted over the Internet maybe at risk of being stolen.

You never know what might be lurking out there. The bad guys have all kinds of tools at their disposal, and all of them are used to find information that they can steal from you it’s important to know what you might be up against.

According to a 2010 report by Trustwave SpiderLabs, consumers’credit cards are more likely to be hacked in a hotel than in any other place they are used. Thirty-eight percent of the hacking incidents that Trustwave investigated last year occurred in hotel credit card systems.

In 2010, the Wyndham Hotels and Resorts – operators of The Days Inn, Ramada and Howard Johnson Hotel chains – reported that their networks had been compromised by hackers. The loot: An unknown number of guest names and credit card numbers.

Packet sniffers – These programs allow the interception of wireless transmissions via data packets. Packets are the form in which data is organized and sent across networks. If the packets are unencrypted, someone with a packet sniffer can see the information as plain text. That means your passwords, credit card numbers, and other information can be picked up and used by someone else.

Decoding Tools – Even “secure” hot spots can leave you exposed. Tools for decoding encrypted wireless communications are easily found and allow hackers to crack encryption keys. That means you still need to be on guard when you visit a hot spot that provides each visitor with passwords or other signs of secured networks.

Evil Twin or Wi-phishing – As with ordinary phishing, wi-phishing puts your identity in danger. Wi-phishing, or The Evil Twin, is a popular ruse in which criminals spoof wireless networks to deceive people like you into divulging confidential information by setting up a fake hot spot that you might innocently log into. This “evil twin” is ready to steal passwords, financial information, or whatever else you might be transmitting. Here’s how it might work: Your coffee shop (or anywhere else you may be) uses a wireless service provider that charges a connection fee. To connect, you must provide a credit card number and certain personal information. In a wi-phishing scam, someone pre-empts the hot spot’s wireless signal with one of his own by creating a “dummy” network that contains the name of the airline, hotel or coffee shop, replacing the sign-up page with a fake look-alike. You end up supplying your information to the spoofer, not the real hot spot provider. Once you’re on the spoofed hot spot, you may be redirected to other fraudulent pages. The bottom line is that you’ve just given your credit card information to a phony site.

Below are some key steps to protecting your computer from intrusion:

Watch out for fake WiFi access points designed to look just like real hotel WiFi networks. These “Evin Twins” may even contain your hotel’s name. Check with the establishment to get the correct name.

Find out whether your hotel’s wireless network uses WPA (WiFi Protected Access) security. WPA usually requires a password to get onto the network and always encrypts everything sent over wireless. This prevents eavesdropping over wireless – but it may not stop other guests connected to the same hotspot from stealing your data.

Always assume you’re not alone on any public WiFi network. Disable file sharing, turn on your computer’s personal firewall, and never send Social Security numbers, passwords or financial information when using an unencrypted wireless connection.

When using a free hotspot, you could be sending data through someone you don’t know. When using a commercial hotspot, never supply payment information to an unsecured hotspot login page. If your web browser does not display a green padlock or it warns that the login page may not be secure, use a different hotspot.

Use a VPN (virtual private network) to make all the information transmitted over your WiFi connection invisible to hackers.