BBB Warns Consumers to Be Selective About Online Activity in Public Places with Free Internet Access

Free Wi-Fi Connections May Lead to “Sidejacking”
August 04, 2014

WiFi symbolConnecticut Better Business Bureau is warning consumers that free WiFi access in public places may come at a high price. 

Coffee shops, college campuses, airports and hotels are commonly used by hackers to steal personal information and place computers at risk for viruses.   

In a practice known as “sidejacking,” hackers eavesdrop on people’s online surfing through public WiFi hubs, which in public places, usually do not require a user name or password.  In addition, hackers have the ability to set up their own networks in an effort to sidejack unsuspecting computer users who use those networks.  Once they burrow their way into a computer, hackers can capture their victims’ logins, passwords and credit card numbers.

Using public WiFi is inherently risky. Laptops, smartphones and tablets are all susceptible to security breaches, which can be executed from a parking lot or neighboring building, however, it takes only a few extra seconds to eliminate many associated dangers.

BBB recommends the following precautions to protect your devices from unwanted intrusion through free, unsecured public WiFi:

Update protection - Make sure your virus and anti-malware programs are up-to-date and active.

Never assume connections are legitimate - Many fake networks deliberately utilize similar names, such as “coffee_shop1” or “Official Airport WiFi.”

Look for connection authenticity - Look for signs posted at the WiFi location that provides the connection, or ask an employee for information about the legitimate WiFi access point.

Use a Virtual Private Network - VPNs encrypt data that passes through the connection and prevent interception.

Avoid certain online activities - Social networking, online banking services and certain shopping sites contain significant amounts of personal and financial data that, if hijacked, could seriously compromise personal information.

BBB reminds online users to frequently change passwords and to log out of wireless networks when they have finished browsing.   

For more information about online safety, check out; visit the BBB News & Events page for the latest scam alerts and marketplace updates.


Founded in 1928, BBB Serving Connecticut is an unbiased, non-profit organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior, and is one of 112 local, independent BBBs across North America.

For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust.  In 2013, people turned to BBB more than 132 million times for BBB Business Reviews on more than 4.5 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at