A wide variety of businesses routinely advertise free Wi-Fi access. While it may seem easy and convenient to use, free Wi-Fi comes with major risks.
Why? Because it's possible that instead of connecting to a legitimate hot spot, you may actually be connecting to a peer-to-peer or computer-to-computer network set up by a hacker who is nearby using a laptop. A hacker can enable their PC to allow you to browse the Internet through their connection. Since you're using the hacker's Internet connection, all your online activity is routed through their computer, enabling them to track your activity, including stealing your usernames and passwords.
Smartphones also pose security risks, especially when used with free Wi-Fi networks in densely-populated public places. Seemingly innocuous conversations, when shared over insecure networks, may allow clever hackers to steal your identity.
Protect yourself from Wi-Fi fraud
You can take steps against Wi-Fi fraud by taking the following precautions:
- Avoid connecting to a network identified as computer-to-computer.
- Don't access banking, credit card or other accounts that contain sensitive financial or personal information.
- Don't share credit card or banking information over unsecured e-mail, even if a hotel or merchant asks for it.
- Encrypt files before transferring or e-mailing them.
- Install anti-virus software on all mobile devices.
- Use virtual private networks or VPNs (provided by your employer or a private company) that encrypt all information transfers.
- Routinely update your operating system and make sure you have the most recent security downloads.
- Turn on your smartphone's encryption settings, if available.
Remember, when using your phone or laptop in a public place, take note of the people around you. Enhancing security on your mobile device may be as simple as walking to a more isolated location. Sophisticated software won't protect you from someone who's looking over your shoulder and watching as you type.