Folks, I was at the airport and I popped open my laptop to hop on the net and upon doing so I encountered a seriously sneaky bastard. Do you see anything wrong with the image below?
Well, hopefully you notice the little icon of a laptop beside the network entitled “Free Public WiFi”. This is NOT a free wireless access point, but instead a laptop computer that someone has configured to capture your personal data and rob you blind.
The way this scam works is that a criminal entices unwitting suspects to connect to the Internet through their computer. Meanwhile, they are running packet sniffing software to read every bit of unencrypted data passing through it. This includes every web page you visit, the e-mails you write, and even the instant messages you send.
Why would someone want to do this? Because if they listen to what you say long enough they are eventually going to capture a password or some personally identifying information that could prove useful to them.
Oh, and if that isn’t bad enough, once your laptop is connected to theirs, you have opened the door for them to scan all of the ports on your machine in the hopes of finding a security loophole. If they do find one, they could install a rootkit or some other malware on your machine, turning it into a mindless zombie under their control from now on.
So, the bottom line here is, don’t be randomly connecting to just any old network you see. You need to ensure that you are actually connecting to a wireless access point (you can even tell Windows to ONLY show WAPs), and that you have a software firewall installed (see my list of Top 50 Favorite Freeware for recommendations).
Edit: Thanks to Kim for pointing out that there were YouTube videos on this topic. I found these two which share a little more info. The first is from Chris Pirillo:
Next is from a local news channel: