Free isn’t always free – especially when the price is your privacy
Sometimes, free Wi-Fi seems like a no-brainer. But how careful are you when connecting to an unfamiliar Wi-Fi network? “Free” Wi-Fi isn’t always without a price – all too often, you’re leaving your mobile device vulnerable to hacking.
Recently at the Republican National Convention, network security company Avast set up fake Wi-Fi hotspots in a social experiment to expose the risks people take when connecting to free networks. Avast was able to monitor the traffic of many of the convention attendees, finding details about everything from the types of devices people used, to the social networking sites users frequented, to how many people played Pokémon Go. Attendees did their online banking and shopping in addition to checking for hits on their online dating profiles. Fortunately for RNC guests, Avast did not store user data, but cyber criminals are not likely to be so kind.
Right now, in Rio de Janeiro, scammers have set up unsecured Wi-Fi spots to look like they are the official networks of the airport, large shopping centers, hotels, and more. With the high volume of travelers arriving in Rio daily, it makes perfect sense for criminals to target tourists. There are bogus apps cleverly designed to look official in order to access your personal information, such as your phone storage, contacts, photos, and more.
If you’re someone who is constantly coming close to or going over on your data, you might be tempted to connect to any free Wi-Fi that’s available. Before doing that, here are some things to consider:
- Check the threat map from security firm SkyCure to see if there are suspicious Wi-Fi networks in your area that should be avoided: https://maps.skycure.com/
- Don’t connect to Wi-Fi networks that shouldn’t be in range – if you’re thirty miles away from the nearest airport, Free-Airport-WiFi is NOT what it looks like
- When in doubt, ask an employee how to connect to their Wi-Fi, so hopping on “Free-Starbucks-WiFi” doesn’t result in your phone or computer being hacked
- Only download apps and software from your app store or from the official website. Don’t download anything from third-party websites, and check the developer name if you’re unsure
- If you plan to use your phone while traveling internationally, check with your carrier about international data plans
- Always keep your device updated
Bottom line: free Wi-Fi can cost you. Is it worth it?