Public Wi-Fi hotspots are brilliant for ensuring you can check your email and surf the web while on the go. However, using public wireless internet can also leave you wide open to attack. We show you the proper precautions you'll need to take to ensure you're not inviting your coffee colleagues to partake in confidential information.
Paid hotspots: safety not included
While researching this article, I found a common misconception among travellers and coffee enthusiasts - namely, the idea that commercial hotspots that require pay-per-hour or monthly subscription fees are more secure than their free counterparts because a payment and a password are involved.
In fact, these hotspots are almost always unencrypted, and they employ what is called a 'captive web portal' only to prevent access to the internet until you enter a payment method (or subscriber password).
Though this 'gateway' web portal is usually delivered over HTTPS (to protect the credit card information or the password), once authenticated all the traffic is unencrypted on the wireless network.
As a result, your monthly fee gives you access but not security.
In fact, due to the nature of radio frequency transmissions, another person - even if they aren't a subscriber - can still view any unencrypted traffic that you send, just by joining the same SSID wireless network.
This means that outsiders can easily observe and capture any regular HTTP websites you visit, any unencrypted POP3 email you access, and any FTP transfers you make.
Talented hackers can even modify their wireless card to clone the identity of your wireless card, thus obtaining free access through a commercial hotspot by 'piggybacking' on your signals.
NEXT PAGE: Use your VPN
- Make sure you and your data are protected
- Your personal business is your competitors' business
- Paid hotspots: safety not included
- Use your VPN
- Wi-Fi surfing safety summary