Free Wi-Fi Doesn't Mean Safe Wi-Fi, Police Say

Police offer five tips on how to protect your information when using a public network.

From Newark Police

So you’re sitting at the airport. Your flight has been delayed (again), and you can’t help but wonder if your HR forgot to reimburse you for last month’s business trip (again).

No problem, you think.

You’re at the coffee shop. They offer free WiFi. Fire up the laptop and check your bank account. Done. Sounds great.

Until you realize days later that one of the 200 people sitting around you “listened in” on your signal; has your bank login information; and is now sitting in a similar coffee shop in Aruba - thanks to your savings. 

Here are some tips to help keep your public hotspot Web surfing safe and trouble-free. 

1. Only Connect to Trusted Networks 

Are you the type of person who opens your smartphone or laptop and immediately connects to any unsecured connection? In today’s wireless world, these free hotspots are increasingly easy to find. Beware though. To a cybercriminal with just a modicum of experience, it can be relatively easy to create a free network to entice you in with your mobile device-only to direct you where he wants or grab any information you use. Stick to SSIDs you recognize, like those listed in public places that advertise free WiFi. 

2. Look for Free WiFi Accounts that Require a Login 

When you use Norton Zone no one will ever see your personal data without your permission. No exceptions. With private folder and file sharing you decide exactly what others can do and see within a shared folder, so, you can keep your private Stuff private. 

3. Use Paid WiFi Access For More Security 

Why pay for something you can get for free? Because that access point is likely to be more secure. By taking this route, you’ll get secure login credentials, which should help toughen up the barriers against the free, but perhaps dubious, WiFi path. 

4. Your Smartphone May Open Its Doors Too 

If you’re like many people, your smartphone is set to automatically connect to open WiFi accounts. This can help save your cell minutes, and potentially offer faster downloads, too. But are you aware of what hotspots your phone is grabbing onto to when you’re out? Check what’s available before you connect, or simply go into your phone’s settings and turn off the option to connect to anything and everything. 

5. Don’t Visit Free Public WiFi unless it’s a Secure Connection 

There’s only one way that’s absolutely certain to prevent free, unsecured WiFi snooping, and that’s avoiding free, unsecured WiFi altogether. Is this going too far? Perhaps. It can depend upon the sites you’re visiting. If you’re checking the weather and local restaurants through a recognizable connection, you’re probably all right. Saving the bank and credit card accounts until you’re on a secure connection is also a good idea. 

You wouldn't shout out your bank’s log in credentials in a crowd. But even if you did, that wouldn't ensure someone would use the information to wipe out your money. It’s the same with using unsecured free WiFi. Someone might steal your info. Someone might not. You’ll never know until it happens. 

Why chance it? Make sure you stay safe when using public WiFi. 


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James Nelson October 05, 2012 at 07:38 PM
A lot of people will say they have "Nothing to Hide" and "Why would a Malicious User Target them?". Every time I hear someone ask these Questions I'm thinking how much of an Idiot they seem at the time, but I give them the proper advice. Back during my Hacktivist or as some call it "Grey Hat" Days, I use to go up and down every street in Newark and specifically hunt for Unsecured Networks. Of course, I didn't Exploit the ones I found, but I still took note of them all the same. It was both Alarming and Interesting to me how many Unsecured WiFi Points existed. So what could a Stranger like me do with Access to your System? ... For Starters I could have free uninterrupted reign over all of your files on your Hard Drive, if you allow Windows to "Remember Passwords" I can open a Directory and Snatch them. I could Take over your Machine by Remotely Accessing it and using it to commit a Crime. Better yet, I could Upload a little Application known as a Trojan and Secretly Record every Key Stroke you type which then is transmitted back to me via the Internet. Computer AND Network Security is very Important I can't stress this enough. So don't just blow this off, take it seriously! I have people contacting me all the time to come out and Remove all kinds of Junk from their Computers such as Malware, Trojans, Viruses etc. Don't be a Victim, Use Protection, LOL. Good Post!
Nadja Adolf October 06, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Very good article. War driving, bicycling, and hiking are not illegal; but accessing the networks you find is illegal. Repeat after me; Wired Equivalent Privacy or unsecured networks are as safe as running a LAN cable to the curb and leaving a card with your system administrator password attached to it.
Chilly8 October 10, 2012 at 02:57 PM
One good idea is to have a "guest" access point that is restricted, where people cannot get at the files on your network, and also filtered to prevent people from accessing, porn, warez, or anything else that could get you into trouble. I have guest access on my WiFi, but you cannot access any of the machines on my network through it, I also have filtering, from OpenDNS, to block porn, warez, gambling sites, and social media, and have P2P filesharing blocked. This can be done by blocking all access to UDP ports 1024 and above.


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