Why "Free Public WiFi" Isn't Free Nor Safe

Why "Free Public WiFi" Isn't Free Nor Safe

Gregory Han
Oct 11, 2010

We discussed about how to get free wi-fi at the airport before, but we wanted to share an additional bit of important information specifically about "Free Public WiFi" networks you might see while traveling or at other public areas.

NPR reports about the proliferation of the "Free Public WiFi" faux wireless network you might have noticed and tried to connect to at the airport or local coffee shop. There's a reason that this free account never works:

When a computer running an older version of XP can't find any of its "favorite" wireless networks, it will automatically create an ad hoc network with the same name as the last one it connected to -– in this case, "Free Public WiFi." Other computers within range of that new ad hoc network can see it, luring other users to connect. And who can resist the word "free?"

The report goes onto provide some additional information about how to protect yourself from this annoying, if not (currently) relatively benign service set identifier (SSID) issue. Connecting or creating an ad hoc network like the "Free Public WiFi" isn't likely going to directly affect your computer or files, but it does provide an access point for unwelcome access in the wrong hands.

Just a good reminder to always remember that there are very few things "free" in this world, so skip out on those listed wi-fi networks with names like linksys, hpsetup, tmobile, and default and follow the steps below as advised by WLANBook.com:

How To Protect Yourself from Viral SSIDs

  • Regardless of whether you're on a Mac or PC, or which version of Windows you're running, resist the urge to connect to "Free Public WiFi" or other unknown wireless networks.
  • Windows Users (this issue was fixed in Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista, and Windows 7): Configure Wireless Auto Configuration to only connect to access points. Click on the Wireless option in the System Tray and open the Wireless Network Connection window.
  • Click on "Change advanced settings".
  • In the Wireless Network Connection Properties window, click on the Wireless Networks tab.
  • Click on the Advanced button.
  • Click on "Access point (infrastructure) networks only"

[via NPR News]

(Image: Flickr member juicyrai licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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