The Dangers of Free Wi-Fi
August 26, 2014

A summer vacation should be free of worry and potential scams, but your Better Business Bureau is warning consumers of reports of scammers setting up free Wi-Fi connections. Many hotels, airports, and other public spaces offer free Wi-Fi, but unfortunately more and more scammers are trying to steal personal information by creating unsecured networks that consumers can connect to for free.

Although hackers can, and have, set up fake Wi-Fi connections in a number of venues, usually they will target consumers at airports or hotels. When searching for connections, consumers may see a network connection available that could be simply named “Free Wi-Fi.” Thinking it’s the free connection offered by the establishment, they’ll log on. Unfortunately, the network may actually be an “ad-hoc” network, or a peer-to-peer connection.

The user will be able to surf the Internet, but they’re doing it through the hacker’s computer. And the whole time, the hacker is stealing information like passwords, credit card and bank account numbers, and social security numbers. Beyond simply stealing keystroke information as the user enters various types of data, if the laptop is set to share files, the hacker could even steal whole documents from the computer.

BBB recommends the following tips when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks:

  • Never connect to an unfamiliar ad-hoc network—even if the name sounds genuine. A hacker can change the name of his network to anything he wants, including the name of the legitimate Internet connection offered by the airport. Just because it has the same name as the Wi-Fi advertised in the airport or hotel, don’t believe it.

  • Make sure that your computer is not set up to automatically connect to non-preferred networks. Otherwise your computer could automatically connect to the hacker’s network without your knowledge.

  • Make sure your firewall is enabled. A firewall helps protect your computer from unauthorized users gaining access by way of the Internet. This can help decrease the likelihood of scammers installing viruses on your device.

  • Do important online work at home. If at all possible, do your important work, such as banking, at home. If you will end up needing to connect to Wi-Fi, avoid using it for tasks such as this. Financial activity is one of the key activities hackers are looking for. Save that for home or on your mobile device’s network.

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