WiFi may be the most asked for service by travellers. I’m definitely one of them. I search through Tripadvisor reviews for the words WiFi and internet. And leave screenshots of speedtest.net in Google Maps reviews to inform others. But like all free things, free WiFi may come at a cost. This is my first post in, what I intend to be, a series of super-negative warning posts about technology. But to balance it, I’ll put some tips to keep yourself safe a the end.
WiFi without a password
WiFi networks without a password are the worst. I agree that they are convient and you see them everywhere. But you should never ever use them. Here is why: if you connect to any WiFi network your phone or laptop will remember the name and will reconnect to it when it sees it again. It will keep searching for all the networks it knows when it’s not connected to a network.
Attackers can scan for the networks your phone is looking for or guess what the common ones in the area are. That makes it easy for them to setup a network without a password that your phone will connect to. You can try it yourself, setup an old WiFi router and call the network “linksys” or “wifi-in-de-trein” or “StarBucks Free WiFi” and watch your and other peoples devices connect to it.
Why that’s a problem
You may wonder why it’s such a big problem if your phone or laptop connects to a fake network. The two main reasons are that an attacker can manipulate or intercept what your are doing online.
Just any password is enough
Your phone searches for WiFi networks that have a password too. And attackers can see these searches too. That’s not a problem because they don’t know the password and can’t setup a network with the same name and password to trick your device into connecting. Even a simple password is soo much better than nothing.
So what can you do about it?
The best thing is to never use WiFi networks without a password. And if you did remove them afterwards from the list. On iOS this has to be done while you are still connected. The button is a bit hidden and it’s called “forget network”. On Android you can also deselect the “Auto reconnect” option. That way you have to manually connect to the network again if you want to use it again.
While using an unsecured wireless network it’s best to encrypt your traffic with a VPN. I’ll dive deeper into VPN’s in another post.