Cybersecurity Insight

Free WiFi Is Totally Awesome – Until It Isn’t

4 Mar

Free WiFi sounds great considering you have to pay an arm and a leg to access it in your own home (or at least buy a cup of coffee if you’re out). However, with the potential of this newfound accessibility comes a series of fairly important questions that people should consider before logging on. How safe is their browsing term going to be? Will you be more vulnerable to hackers? Who takes the blame if your data is stolen over this free WiFi? And how does this affect other companies in the wireless world?

An initiative in New York to provide free WiFi via repurposed pay phone booths is aptly named LinkNYC and helmed by CityBridge, a joint venture between smartphone chip maker Qualcomm Inc., networking company CIVIQ Smartscapes and Intersection (backed by Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company). Users won’t have to sit through advertisements of any kind – the advertisements will run on the repurposed pay phone structures themselves, and once logged in surfing the Internet commences uninterrupted. Obviously this creates a great alternative to burning through data on your cellular plan while outside of a reliable wireless signal – it creates a lot of additional competition in a market that, until recently, was dominated by the Time Warners and Comcasts of the Internet provider world.

Competition aside, what does this mean for the average user checking emails at a corner WiFi hotspot on their way to meet friends ? How much more of your personal information is accessed by the companies who have provided this free wireless service across one of the largest metropolitan populations in the world? Funnily enough, IT security company Avast decided to measure how trusting the attendees at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona would be if rogue WiFi hotspots were available at no cost. The answer? Even people who work in mobile and IT industries are extremely trusting when it comes to logging into free wireless networks. That trusting nature could have been to a fault had Avast not been behind the free wireless – there were 2,000 connections that logged over 8 Million data pockets from which Avast skimmed information at random. The kicker? Avast reported having the ability to identify over half the users but chose not to; hackers wouldn’t be as kind.

What does this mean for the future of wireless? Overall it’s a great step forward and brings the Internet to a larger group of people whose access may have been stilted until now. On the security side, sales of mobile VPN devices could become the norm as the world becomes more and more mobile (considering one writer’s recent hacking experience while using Gogo Wireless during a flight, learning proper wireless safety practices is something to consider!). They guard the user’s information from prying eyes and allow them to surf the Internet anonymously. Even with a mobile VPN device, users should still educate themselves on choosing wireless networks wisely.

Cyber attacks are becoming the norm and users need to keep themselves up-to-date on the latest findings in the IT security world and beyond, regardless of whether they’re using the Internet for business or personal reasons. Hackers will still continue to try and find ways to syphon data from unsuspecting people – staying one step ahead of the attacks is key in order to protect your assets and livelihood.