How Safe Are Wi-Fi Hotspots?

Many of us travel a lot, whether in business or just to visit our families and friends. We use our computers, smartphones and tablets in hotels, restaurants, and other places, but are these Wi-Fi “Hot Spots safe? 

We all assume it’s safe to connect to the Wi-Fi network at our local Starbucks, airport, waiting area where we have our cars serviced, hospital, or even at a relative’s home. But it is a really bad idea…a very bad idea! There are many reasons you wouldn’t want to do this. Let’s look at the various types of Wi-Fi network.

Ad-hoc Networks & Access Point Networks

Basically, there are two types of Wi-Fi networks accessible by your computer: ad-hoc networks and traditional access point networks. Ad-hoc networks are getting a little outdated, but they still exist. They connect devices directly to each other, while access point networks connect devices to a central router. For example, you could connect two laptops or your laptop and your phone together without the need for a router or any other networking hardware. This would create an ad-hoc network. This is different from a traditional access point network where each device connects to a router, like you most likely have in your house.

Unsecured Network

A network is deemed unsecured just by virtue of the fact there is no password required to access it. If you’re able to click on a network in your smartphone or tablet and connect to it without a password, you are connecting to an unsecured network, and that makes the device you’re using susceptible to hacking…plain and simple.

So, that “free public Wi-Fi” network you encounter at the airport is nothing more than an ad-hoc network that was probably started long ago as a service to travelers, but still persists to this day. Basically, when you connect to this type of network, you are most likely connecting to another computer. And when you connect to that other computer, your computer “could” also be set up to broadcast the “free public Wi-Fi” network to other devices around you, essentially allowing access to all your private data to anyone within range. This is not good!

Why You Shouldn’t Connect to Unsecured Networks

Let’s say you’re sitting in a coffee shop and decide you want to check your email to kill some time. You scan the available networks and find one that’s open and doesn’t require a password. You connect and start surfing. Coffee and free Wi-Fi, how good does it get…right? Wrong! A hacker who is also fond of coffee shops and could be located within range of the router you connected to. He’s waiting for someone just like you to connect to the network so he can start a middleman attack. Within a few minutes, he could easily gain access to all your passwords, including bank accounts, email, and anything else he wants. You may not think this is possible…but with today’s software and technology, it is!

How to Stop Wi-Fi Crime

So how can you help prevent all this from happening? For starters, you can use *only* a secured network that encrypts all of your data. This will ensure your data is safe and scrambled as it travels between you and its destination”. Now, if a hacker were to intercept your message, they would see nothing but a bunch of scrambled garbage. Of course, no security measure is 100% safe, but at least good encryption will help a lot.

Tips for connecting to unfamiliar wireless networks…if you must do so:

  1. Save the really important tasks, such as online banking and other finances, for home.
  2. Try not to connect to any “public” or “unsecured” networks. If you absolutely need access to the internet, pay a few bucks for the secure option...
  3. When on a Wi-Fi network, look for websites that begin with “https” in the address bar, then try to use only these secure sites.
  4. If you really want maximum security, use a VPN.

Lastly, tell all your friends and family to follow these Wi-Fi safety tips. You just may save someone from a major financial or identity theft disaster.